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Jun 17, 2018

#2 - When Our Bodies Hurt

Passage: Job 30:16-19

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: When You Need More Than a Band-Aid

Category: Not By Chance But By His Fatherly Hand

Keywords: chronic, disability, healing, hope, illness, mercy

Summary:

Not By Chance But By His Fatherly Hand, Part 2 – When Our Bodies Break and Hurt. “The question is not how to get cured, but how to live,” wrote Joseph Conrad in Lord Jim. And that’s a window into recognizing and responding with loving kindness to those who suffer in their bodies, whether with an incurable disease or chronic illness. Gene Edwards stops us from offering quick answers and easy encouragement when he highlights an open-ended phrase in the gospel of Mark, chapter 3, saying Jesus healed ‘many.’ It leaves open the experience we have come to know, that while many are healed, not all are. And how do we live when our prayers for healing are answered only with a spiritual assurance, as was the Apostle Paul’s, ‘My grace is sufficient for you’? Job 30 confesses for us: Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest. The scriptures help us to recognize our own suffering and the suffering of others within the providence of God. In the resurrection of Jesus the Triune God has done something about our mortal, pain-filled, limited bodies. He has secured our resurrection. ‘The body that is sown is perishable; it is raised imperishable,’ promises 1 Corinthians 15. How can we help one another live in that promise? Also, in prayer and song, we will take time to thank the Lord God for all the boys and men in our lives.

Detail:

Nobody likes to be sick.

But they say men handle it worse than women.

I found these sentiments about man flu –

are these true?

‘I don’t’ always get sick

but when I do

it’s like I’m dying!’

 

                        During labor the pain is so great that a woman can almost imagine what a man feels like when he has a fever!

 

My husband isn’t even sick anymore and we are still talking about how sick he was a few weeks ago.

 

Is this how we are? Really ?

Maybe we can laugh a little at these,

after all, laughter is the best medicine, they say.

But chronic illness, disability, sickness

and seasons when our bodies break and hurt

are no laughing matter.

 

Job’s words speak for us, specifically for those of us who struggle with our bodies

and with chronic illness or disability.

You can feel the pain in his words as he suffers:

Job 30

16 “And now my life ebbs away;

    days of suffering grip me.

17 Night pierces my bones;

    my gnawing pains never rest.

 

Some of us know this personally.

You suffer with chronic illness or pain

and it is not going to go away.

You manage it with pills, or therapy,

and have learned humility to receive help.

My wife had a cousin who has since passed away having suffered with MS.

He told me once, you know how you feel

when you hit your funny bone,

and that awful tingling?

He said, that’s how my whole body feels

every waking moment.

For those of us

who don’t know this kind of chronic pain or illness

remember that you cannot always see it

on those who suffer.

‘Gnawing pain’ isn’t often visible.

If we listen to Job we hear the fear,

the anguish, the despair.

We also see a man who is losing his identity

and who is feeling isolated,

separated from his friends and even from God

as a result of his suffering.

So the question of when our bodies break down,

the struggles of illness,

the hope for healing,

and the perseverance in pain -

all these are faith questions,

Sickness asks who we are in relationship to Jesus,

and how our lives are lived for God’s glory.

How we don’t just cope but live by faith

when our bodies are not what we want them to be.

Remember, I am a child of God,

I am not my pain,

I am not my illness,

nothing separates me from God’s love.

 

Right now on our hearts is little Lincoln Haen

who may possibly have to undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation.

We pray for him and for Peter and Katie.

Grandparents are worried, siblings are worried.

We pray for healing.

 

One of the best things we do

is when we gather with each other

right here after worship, or in homes with elders,

or even a hospital bedside,

and pray for each other.

The epistle of James says that’s what faith does.

Faith recognizes the Lord is the healer

and so the church prays in his name

on behalf of the hurting one for healing mercy.

 

And we have rejoiced at the healing of some.

But we worship together with those

who have not had their and our prayers for healing

answered with a yes.

Kate Bowler writes,

“One moment I was a regular person

with regular problems.

And the next, I was someone with cancer.”

She prays, she says, to “a God of Maybe,

who may or may not let me collect more years.

It is a God I love, and a God that breaks my heart.”

We get that.

So we suffer with each other thru it all

to experience that our Heavenly Father

isn’t a God of maybe,

but the Lord of hope and wholeness.

 

The Lord brings us hope in 1st Corinthians 15.

The Bible contrasts our earthly bodies

with our heavenly ones.

Our hope for a life well lived

or the good life

or a life of purpose and meaning is not tied to

physical, earthly health but to resurrection:

“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.

The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

 

Our victory is in resurrection.

Paul describes the natural bodies with the words:

perishable,

dishonor,

weakness,

mortal.

We are not to find our identity

or put our hope in our physical health.

Yes, health is a blessing,

the Lord gives us this blessing,

sometimes the Lord takes it away . . .

Praise the Lord Jesus came to heal,

and praise our Father in heaven for

all the providential resources of medical science.

But our bodies are mortal.

The saving work of Christ’s powerful

cross and empty tomb don’t guarantee

a life of health and prosperity,

but they do assure resurrection, eternal life.

A ‘spiritual body’ writes Paul here

in 1st Corinthians 15 –

“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

 

A spiritual body doesn’t mean

some sort of ghostly, spirit existence.

It is a body.

It is raised from the dead.

It is spiritual because of

the resurrecting work of Christ’s Spirit.

“I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body”

we say together when we say the Apostles’ Creed.

We profess this when we are well, when we are sick,

when we are disabled, and when we are dying also.

 

How can we live in this sure hope

knowing our bodies have or will let us down;

that health is a blessing,

but all things come by our Father’s hand –

including health and sickness.

Since all these sorrows are not too big

for our Heavenly Father’s hands,

there are faith choices we can make in response,

for . . .  all things, in fact,

come to us

not by chance

but by his fatherly hand,

we say in our catechism.

 

One response we default to

that we must NOT choose,

is to ask, why?

I know, that just comes naturally to us:

why me?

why now?

why this?

why Lord?

Peter DeVries wrote the novel The Blood of the Lamb partly in response to losing his daughter to illness.

The main character cries at one point:

Man is inconsolable, thanks to that eternal "Why?" when there is no Why, that question mark twisted like a fishhook in the human heart.

― Peter De Vries, The Blood of the Lamb

 

In contrast, Christian Wiman,

one of America’s leading poets and a Christian,

was diagnosed with an incurable blood cancer

a year into his marriage.

He shares,

In those early days after the diagnosis, when my wife and I mostly just sat on the couch and cried, I alone was dying, but we were mourning very much together. And what we were mourning was not my death, exactly, but the death of the life we had imagined with each other.

The mistake lay in thinking grief the means of confrontation, rather than love.

Face the suffering of life not just by grief but by love for God, neighbor, self.

 

So what has God’s Spirit given us in order to do this?

To face illness, chronic pain, or disability,

not with grief but love

for God and one another?

Our catechism summarizes what faith looks like

during these times this way:

we can be patient when things go against us

thankful when things go well

and for the future we can have

good confidence in our faithful God and Father

that nothing in creation will separate us

from his love.

Patient

Thankful

Hopeful

is what that says to us.

This is humility in the story of our suffering.

This is how we live life in God’s love.

 

Patience gives us the freedom

to both lament and to confess.

That’s what Job does in his sorrow.

We remember that Jesus wept

at the tomb of Lazarus,

a friend who died too soon.

We also remember Paul bringing his struggle,

what he called a thorn in his side,

to the Lord asking for deliverance,

and the answer God gave him was,

my grace is enough, sufficient for you.

 

The body of Christ, the church,

should take time to lament together.

There are times in worship,

in life groups,

or where two or three gather,

to mourn with those who mourn.

 

Lament is more than singing sad songs.

It is intentionally bringing our sorrow

to our Heavenly Father

in the name of Jesus

and in the fellowship of his people.

It is okay to be sad when you gather in worship,

if you share your sadness in the presence

of the Lord of the cross,

who is called in Isaiah 53

a man of suffering

and familiar with pain.

To lament then, means that you and I

must choose to be with those who hurt,

in prayer and care,

to visit the sick, as Jesus said,

for Jesus promised to be with us always,

so we ought to be with one another in pain also.

 

Scripture helps us lament together.

Many of the psalms are prayers of lament.

So when you are overwhelmed

and you don’t trust your own thoughts,

give them over to the Spirit

by simply reading the psalms

as your lament before the Lord,

who has promised to record every tear,

keeping them, treasuring them in a heavenly bottle

until the great day when

there will be no more pain, or hurt, or tears.

 

Even the stories of Jesus help us

fix our hope not on health but on Christ alone.

Gene Edwards alerted me

to this mystery in the gospels,

where in a few situations

the gospel writers say, ‘many’ were healed;

and one way to read that is

many, not all, were healed.

The most compelling of these texts is

when John’s disciples

come to Jesus after John was put in prison,

and share John’s struggle to trust

when they ask Jesus,

are you the one who was promised

or should we look for someone else?

Asking the question

that so many ask

in a vain search for something else,

anything else besides Jesus even today.

Gene Edwards sketches the scene in his book:

The Prisoner in the Third Cell:

John asks, what did Jesus answer?

He quoted from Isaiah 35 –

“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

 

Where was Jesus?

He was in Nain.

There were sick people yearning to be healed.

Jesus healed many.

Did you say many?

Yes, many were healed, John.

Many, but not all?

Yes, you are right,

Jesus healed many, but not all.

And John observed,

he said one more thing, didn’t he?

No, only those words from the prophet Isaiah.

But you said Jesus wanted you to tell me,

the dead are raised.

Yes, he said that along with the healing of the blind,

the lame, the deaf, and the lepers.

The dead are raised, he added,

Jesus added that, it’s not in Isaiah.

Yes, John, you are right.

He said those words for me, didn’t he?

Yes, John, to you he said, the dead are raised.

 

John would not be released.

There are times when Jesus asks those closest to him

to suffer poverty for him,

or to suffer persecution with him,

or even to suffer illness for his glory.

23 “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

 

Our lament leads us to confession.

Sickness is the result of sin in this world.

Again, as I said last week,

and this applies next week too

when we talk about mental illness,

we do NOT get sick

because God is punishing us for our sin.

People like to talk about karma,

but karma isn’t a real thing.

Sure, unhealthy choices can lead

to unhealthy consequences for us.

Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit

so we should honor the body:

that includes not only food and rest,

but also healthy and holy sexual practices,

avoiding risky behavior,

and the safeguarding of life where we can.

 

But sickness is a result of what sin has done

to life and to the world.

So when we see or experience sickness

our best response is to turn to our Father in heaven.

Our contemporary testimony leads us in confession:

  1. Life is a gift from God’s hand,

who created all things.

Receiving this gift thankfully,

with reverence for the Creator,

we protest and resist

all that harms, abuses, or diminishes the gift of life,

whether by abortion, pollution, gluttony,

addiction, or foolish risks.

Because it is a sacred trust,

we treat all life with awe and respect,

especially when it is most vulnerable—

whether growing in the womb,

touched by disability or disease,

or drawing a last breath.

When forced to make decisions

at life’s raw edges,

we seek wisdom in community,

guided by God’s Word and Spirit.

 

Patient when things go against us,

then thankful when things go well:

We thank God in worship,

we praise the Lord when healing comes,

and we also thank our Heavenly Father

by participating in ways that support

the advancement of medical care

and the ability for all people to access that care.

 

It is easy to say we are pro-life

and we are.

But we know pro-life is more than anti-abortion.

Pro-life is about way more than

protecting babies in the womb,

which it is that, too.

Our job isn’t done when a baby is born,

which we remind ourselves of at every baptism

when we promise to help nurture this child

in Jesus’ name:

do you promise to love, encourage and support. . .?

So pro-life is also about providing care

for our neighbors in each and every season of life.

The fact that the US doesn’t do this

is one of the worst forms

of American exceptionalism today,

and something Christians should stand against.

What are we blessed for, anyway?

We like to point to the wealth and freedom

we have in this country,

but what is it for?

The commandment you shall not steal

is applied this way by our reformed teachings:

What does God require of you

in this commandment?

  1. That I do whatever I can for my neighbor’s good,

that I treat others as I would like them to treat me,

and that I work faithfully

so that I may share with those in need.

 

When we don’t provide the care that we can give

to the sick and the hurting

we steal from them

the love of Christ we owe them.

In Matthew 25, after all, Jesus says

whatever you did to the least of these you did to me,

and he includes the sick in that list of

the least of these.

 

All this comes to us from our spiritual forbear,

John Calvin.

If there was a difference between Calvin and Luther,

and there were a few,

one of those differences involved medical care.

Even tho John Calvin was sick his whole life,

and died young,

after losing his wife to illness

and a losing at least one child,

maybe more, in infancy,

he saw medicine and medical science

as a gift from God.

He believed healing was given

by the providential grace of God,

but often God used the skills and resources

given to human beings to accomplish his will.

When we talk about Jesus as the Great Physician,

we are echoing Calvin’s insights

into the providential character of God.

 

We confess when we have not taken care of ourselves or one another as we ought.

We are thankful for God’s providential care,

finding the good in our day

and then adding to it.

For the future we live in hope

of resurrection and eternal life.

What does that look like?

 

Sickness clarifies for us the truth

that life is first for the glory of God

and not for ourselves.

Someone said this week

that today we have turned around

the purpose of life.

The Westminster Confession says it this way:

The chief end of man is to glorify God

and enjoy him forever. Right?

Instead, most of us live thinking

the chief end of God is to glorify man

and enjoy him forever.

 

But Jesus had something to say

about giving God glory even in

our health and sickness:

in John 9 the disciples come across a man

blind from birth,

2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned,

this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Listen to Jesus’ answer:

3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,”

said Jesus, “but this happened so that

the works of God might be displayed in him.

That is, for the glory of God.

 

We don’t know why we get the illnesses we do.

We don’t know why some are healed

and others are not.

But we do know we are given the life we are given

for the glory of God.

Phil 2 - it is God who works in you to will and to act

in order to fulfill his good purpose.

That’s true whether healthy or sick, young or old,

independent or infirm.

God works in you to fulfill his good purposes.

 

I believe that God leads us into situations

in which we are called to carry a cross

because his people need to be there, too,

as gospel bearers,

as those redeemed in the image of God.

Even in cancer wards,

in neo-natal units,

in special needs clinics

or schools like Elim,

in nursing homes . . .

we are led there by the providential hand of God

for his glory.

If there is one place where questions of God arise

and people yearn for a living word

and people of hope

it is in times and places like these.

And the Lord will carry his purpose out

through our lives when we trust:

patient when things go against us

thankful when things go well

and future the future confident hope

that nothing will separate us from his love.