9-23-18 “Healing Relationship”
So today we conclude our series exploring Creation Spirituality. And we do so with a scripture that we looked at back in July in our summer series on the epistle 1 John - 1 John 4:7-21 - the “God is love” passage. I didn’t really plan it that way, that’s just how it worked out. God is good…
And each week of this series we have explored different aspects of Creation Spirituality, both within the order of the worship services themselves through the four-fold path of Via Positiva, Via Negative, Via Creative, and Via Transformative, but also in the various messages: Creation as Blessing, God’s Spirit of Compassion, The Paths of Life, Sacred Creative Vocations, in celebrating God’s Glorious Diversity, and finally today, on Healing Relationship.
And it is with the healing of relationship - a portion of that fourth path of Transformativa, or transformation - that we conclude our series.
As we have made our way through the four-fold journey of awe and delight over the fact the God has declared us good and very good we have also felt God’s compassion as we considered our own times of suffering alongside the suffering of the world. We have had opportunity some weeks to explore the creativity with which God has gifted us as individuals but also as a congregation located within a community that needs God’s presence shared with them in creative ways by God’s church. It is only then, when God’s desire for justice is made real in God’s people, that we begin to see the effects of God’s healing on the world. And that healing comes through us, as the hands and feet of God, but the source of the healing is the God who is love. There is no greater healing power in all the world than the love of God embodied in the actions of God’s people. And while God gifts and empowers bodily healing through the skills and work of medical professionals, to be certain, God also empowers each of us for healing as well. And here’s what I mean by that.
Creation Spirituality is all about reconnecting with who God is through what God has done and what God calls us to do, more so than through what we think or have been told to believe about God. Before there was ever a doctrine written about God, there was Creation. Before anything was ever written about the nature of God, there was Creation’s relationship with God. God is revealed to us in Scripture, for sure, but God’s first revelation to us was in the act of creation itself. It is in the beauty of nature, in the intricacies of events as large as the Big Bang to things as small as a strand of DNA, in the majesty of a majestic mountain range to the might of a vast and powerful ocean, that we first experience the God who created all things, who created us, in God’s very image and likeness - and called it all good. Wherever we look, whether at the expanse of the universe as seen through the most precise telescopes or at the most minute subatomic particle as viewed through a powerful electron microscope, God is there - God’s handiwork engraved into everything like initials carved into a tree.
And while I embrace the science of how all of this came to be, I don’t for a minute believe it to be just some cosmic accident. No, this creation, this experience we call life, is not some cosmic roll of the dice that came up lucky for us. Creation is an act of love from the God who IS love. All that God created was done so out of love, it was done so out of a desire for relationship between the Creator and the Created. So, when we the created put other things above God, God’s call, and our relationship with God - things like greed, accumulation, materialism, money and profit, power, among others - those things begin to damage or bring destruction to both the creation and our relationship with God. And God then seeks to bring about healing, to restore right relationship between God and all things. It is the true nature of the God of love.
Several of us recently attended a workshop where the facilitator reminded us that the two things Jesus did most often in his ministry was to take meals with people and to heal people. Those two things, eating and healing, were the primary activities of Jesus’ ministry. It was while sitting around the table with various people - saint and sinner alike - that he demonstrated the love of God by building relationships. And it was in providing healing of all sorts that he demonstrated the loving power of God given for all people. Jesus’ sacred vocation, to phrase it in terms of Creation Spirituality, was to bring healing salvation to people who had become estranged from God’s plan.
Our opening hymn today, “For the Healing of the Nations,” speaks of how the healing we receive as individuals is to play out on the larger scale:
You, Creator God, have written your great name on human kind;
for our growing in your likeness bring the life of Christ to mind,
that by our response and service earth its destiny may find.
All that kills abundant living, let it from the earth be banned;
pride of status, race, or schooling, dogmas that obscure your plan.
In our common quest for justice may we hallow life’s brief span.
Our closing song today is the familiar “Stand By Me,” by Ben E. King. And the second verse of that song says,
If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
and the mountains should crumble into the sea
I won't cry, I won't cry, no I won't shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
This secular song reflects the same desire as does
the sacred, a desire for relationship, for healing.
Heard through a different lens, if you will, this song could just as easily be a plea to God, a statement of faith even, to the God who, even when things seem to be falling apart all around us, provides comfort and healing when we are in relationship with the God who is love.
But healing among nations begins with healing among people. There will never be peace among nations as a result of the violence of war. There may be an end to fighting, but that is not peace. Peace, true peace, is more than the absence of war or violence. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you…MY peace I give to you.” Jesus’ peace was not merely an absence of war, or violence, or hate, it was the presence of, the awareness of, the embracing of God’s healing love, given first to his disciples then to all peoples everywhere. That is how true peace begins and spreads.
Our world will never be at peace until you, and I, are at peace with our neighbor. God’s peace will never overcome the world until God’s peace overcomes each of us, as shown through individual acts of love and faith shown to another - over and over again. That is why God the Creator’s fullest revelation to us came in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, who modeled God’s love to the world through relationship building around the table, and through healing.
God’s peace in our world begins with the healing we bring about between and among one another. When we love the other, when we love our neighbor as God commanded us to do, we bring healing into our relationship with the other. And when we continue to do so, and when that love is continually paid forward, then the love and peace of God multiplies exponentially. Our tendency as cynical humans, often times, is that when we do something nice for someone, or a few someones, we then stand back and look at the world thinking, “that didn’t really make any difference at all.” When in fact, it’s in the changing of our attitudes and beliefs about what a difference it makes, that the difference, the healing, actually occurs.
You’ll remember a couple of weeks ago I shared with you a study that found that 2/3 of church-going Christians come to church each week with no expectation that they will encounter God while they’re there - that that preconception becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you won’t experience God, then you most likely won’t, because you’re heart is not open to experiencing God’s presence, which often comes to us in the still, small voice. When all we come expecting is to be entertained, or annoyed, or we decide we don’t like this music or that act or whatever, or that God only speaks when this, that, or the other happens, then we’ve already closed ourselves to experiencing the presence of God. In the words of one of the books we read in our summer book club this year, we come with a “heart at war” rather than a “heart at peace.”
If you went the Emergency Room in the midst of a heart attack, you wouldn’t refuse care from the ER staff because their hospital scrubs were green and your favorite TV doctor’s scrubs were blue would you? When you’re lying on an ER bed and the doctor is preparing to shock your heart back into rhythm, does it really matter whether he or she went to Ohio State or Michigan? Thought of that way it seems pretty silly doesn’t it? But that’s what some of us do when we limit our expectations about how God might come to us to offer us healing in our relationship with God and with others to just those things, those places, those songs or whatever that we’re comfortable with.
God’s peaceable kingdom is found in and by those who come knowing and expecting that God might show up anywhere: for some in this song, for others in that ritual, and for others in the smile and kind word that was shared by the person down the pew. For some, God’s healing comes in seeing the smiling faces of children banging drums at the beginning of worship, while for others it comes in the memory that is recalled when we sing, not a hymn built on some religious doctrine, but in the song we heard on the radio the first time we danced with the love of our lives and then heard it again in a totally new way in church. For some, the presence of God is most closely felt in the caring for or serving of another who needs help or in visiting with one who feels lost. While for others it comes in placing a tithe into the offering plate, understanding that God’s healing presence and extravagantly generous abundance is what led them through many difficulties in life to be at the point where their faith is strong enough to tithe. God’s presence is made known to different people in different ways, but the constant in all of those people is an openness to, and expectation of, God’s loving presence being available in and to all God’s people in any circumstance.
All of us need healing of one kind or another. Today, we’re all about healing relationship - our relationship with God, our relationship with one another, our relationship with our neighbor, our relationship with the community. The offertory today is a blend of a popular classic R&B song, “Lean on Me,” with a favorite traditional hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” There is no divide between the secular and the sacred - God is present in, is the creator of, all things - there are only secular and sacred uses of our God-given gifts, talents, and skills. This song can be heard as God’s invitation to place our lives, place our worries, in the arms of God - that when our life is in a difficult place, we can lean on God, be healed through God.
The song I told you we’ll end with today, another R&B classic, “Stand By Me,” on the other hand, can be heard as our invitation to Christ to come alongside us, to be in relationship, even “when the night has come, the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we see.” And the song, almost in a confessional way declares, “I won’t be afraid, just as long as you stand by me.”
It’s all about relationship - healing relationship - loving relationship. The God who is love invites you, today and every day, to bring healing love into all your relationships, so that that love, paid forward, will bring healing to the world.
God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God, and God remains in them. This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence… because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates another, they are a liar, because the person who doesn’t love another who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. This commandment we have from [Jesus]: Those who claim to love God are to love others as well.