Sermon: Life Together-Confession, Intercession, Healing

September 30, 2018
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

Life Together – Confession, Intercession, Healing

Life Together
Over the past weeks, we have looked at the Gospel of Mark and talked about living the Christian life in terms of discipleship. We have learned that disciples should have divine things, but not human things in our mind. The divine things Jesus taught his disciples are serving others, especially, serving little children who represent the social marginals of the day. If I make the meaning of the divine things more general, it would be a life of relationship with others in our community.

The last chapter of James in the New Testament gave us today another lesson of why our social relationship is divine and how we build it. Please listen carefully as I am going to read it again:

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. (vv. 13-16).

Spiritual Practices
If I give a title to this chapter, it is “Life Together.” Life Together is a passionate call to Christian community. Jesus promised that where two or three gather together in his name, he would be there with them. Then the church must be a holy institution as we have the Prince of peace in our gatherings. But is that really always right? Actually, why don’t we think this way? Wherever two or three gather together, there would be sin, troubles and sickness. How come? It is simply because the church is a human community. We know there will be gossips, tensions and conflicts in any human communities. Some people also bring their own personal problems like their own health issues, children’s problems, or job or finance difficulties, etc.; we are concerned about their problems because we see each other as brothers and sisters in God’s love.

“How can we deal with all those issues and still go through life together as one body in Christ?” To answer that question, James wrote to the early Christians, and to us today, to deal with our sin, trouble and sickness in some kind of spiritual practices: they are “confession,” “intercession” and “healing.”

1) The first spiritual practice is confession: “Confess your sins to one another” (v. 16). We are sinners, that is the basic perspective that the Bible sees human beings. I believe sin is not only a moral or ethical term but also a social term. Intentionally or unintentionally we happen to commit sin, and there are always some people who must be hurt or damaged because of our sin. Thus, sin is by nature relational and so confession must be relational too.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus taught his followers to get rid of all sins if they want to get into God’s kingdom. He commanded them to cut off their hands and their foot and pluck out their eyes, if those cause them to stumble in sins (vv. 43-48). This dire warning of Jesus shocked all of his disciples, as we are shocked today. If we have to take Jesus’ instruction only literally, how many of us could come to church with a whole body? I also suspect that the heavenly kingdom would be filled with all disabled and maimed people. We must not take Jesus’ warning literally. I don’t think that he really teaches us that a morally perfect life is the way we can get in to God’s kingdom. We need to interpret what Jesus was trying to teach us with his dire warning.

As we carefully read it, we recognize that this hand chopping or eye plucking is actually relevant not to our physical life but to our social behaviors towards others. Jesus says, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea” (v. 42). Jesus’ warning about our sin is to focus not on our hand chopping itself but on the dangers of putting a stumbling block before others. Jesus warned us that our personal action can deeply affect others’ life. Sin is always social; therefore, our confession must be relational as well.

2) Another spiritual practice is intercession: “Pray for one another” (v. 16). Intercession is praying for others, which infers that it is also relational. If you know that someone is praying for you, you would feel like you are not alone but in God’s hands. Intercession is what Jesus Christ did between God and people: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Intercession is the way God and the world belong together.

I am thinking of a wonderful woman, a long-time member of the church that I had served in my previous appointment. At the end of my five-year ministry there, she could no longer come to the church because she was getting older and weaker. When I visited her, as I prepared to leave, she said, “I want you to know that I pray for you and pray for your new appointment in CT, every day.” I always saw her as an active member as I knew she has interceded in many people’s lives. And I would always say, “That is the very best thing that you could do.”

My new church here in Rockville has many such dedicated people.  We have people who deliver the non-perishable food collected to the food bank.  In the winter, our coat box is filled multiple times for the clothing bank.  As our members age and can no longer volunteer the way they used to, many continue to pray for others with our Prayer Chain, attend small spiritual gatherings like our Bible Prayer Meetings, and pray for those in need in our community through Seekers.

3) A third spiritual practice is healing: “so that you may be healed” (v. 16). Can healing be relational? “I was sick and I am now healed.”  “What does it have to do with others?” you may wonder…

As you know, Jesus Christ was a great physician to his contemporary people. Thousands of people followed him, looking for his physical touch on their sick bodies. He would be called a mental health therapist as he cast the evil spirits out of people. But Jesus said about his healing ministry, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Lk. 5:31-32). Doesn’t it sound like he was much more concerned about spiritual healing than physical healing?

Healing… that is a complicated gift of God. Yes, God has a deep compassion and will hear our voices whenever we pray to God, but I don’t want you to think that healing is magic. It doesn’t replace medicine or surgery. Although I pray for your healing, I still suggest that you need to follow your doctor’s prescription. The true meaning of healing in the biblical viewpoint is not just a physical curing but the wholeness of our life. It is relational: the relation of mind, body, and spirit; our relationship to each other; our relationship with God.

I have prayed for healing for people. And yet I have to see them still suffering and even dying. In James’s letter for this morning, we clearly hear that “The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up (v. 14)…The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (v. 16). Am I not a righteous pastor? Is that why the miracle of healing didn’t happen?

That verse has at least two meanings. When Jesus touched the sick during his public ministry, he often said, “Rise up and walk.” But we should know that there is another healing Jesus mentioned in the Gospels, that is, God will raise them up and give them resurrection, which is the ultimate healing.

Healing takes many forms. Sometimes there is physical healing. I am sure that this has occurred in our life. But sometimes there is relational healing—healing within families, among friends, within a community. Sometimes there is spiritual healing – somebody got lost but God came into their lives and their life has totally changed as they are forgiven and made whole.

Life Together
“Life together” is a very divine foundation and principle on which we build our Christian community and share our relationship with one another. You don’t need confession, intercession and healing if you live alone in an island. You can do whatever you want to do because none would be hurt. But you need confession, intercession and healing because you have to live in a community where you experience sin, trouble and sickness.

What is then the divine thing we need to have in our mind in order to sustain and support our community? In terms of Mark’s Gospel, we have to keep salt in our relationships and be at peace with one another (vv. 49-50).  Salt makes our food tasty and prevents it from decay. In terms of James, we must turn our attention from ourselves to others and seek for their wholeness of life.

For that kind of intimate relationship, God calls us to confess not only to God but to the people we have sinned against. God invites us to intercede as we know some of us are in some kind of trouble and we are called to serve them. In doing so, God offers to heal us, making us whole in our relationship with one another and God. Life together as we serve and work for the sake of others’ healing, wholeness and salvation is what the Christian disciples and communities should do in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. In light of today’s lesson, “life together,” Let us listen again to today’s passage:

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”
This is the world of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: Crippled by Pain

Crippled by Pain
Luke 13:10-17
Aug 21, 2016

Frank and Mabel had been married for 40 years. Frank had turned 60 in April; it was now June and the family had gathered to celebrate Mabel’s 60th birthday.  During the birthday festivities, Frank took a walk into another room and was surprised to see his fairy godmother.  The fairy godmother said, “Frank, this is your lucky day.  I am here to grant you one wish.  So what would you like?”  Frank thought for a moment and said, “Well, I would really like to have a wife who is 30 years younger than me.”  The fairy godmother said, “No problem.”  She waved her wand and poof.  What do you think happened?  The fairy godmother turned Frank 90 years old.

Today’s gospel text is about the time Jesus healed a crippled woman. He stepped outside the limitations of tradition, and beyond the customs of the Sabbath, and performed a miraculous healing.  Through Jesus, we see that God’s word is alive and active, not dead or static.  My text is Luke 13:10-17.

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

When Andrew “Bum” Phillips was the football coach of the old Houston Oilers and the New Orleans Saints back in the 1970’s and 80’s, he would often wear cowboy boots, blue jeans and a white ten gallon cowboy hat to all the practices and the games. Coach Phillips once made this comment.  “There are two types of coaches in the NFL.  Them that have been fired and them that are going to be fired.”  His statement sort of applies to our topic as well.

There are two types of people in the world: those who have been hurt and those who will be hurt. Hurt is something we cannot escape or avoid.  Even though we make a profession of faith to follow Christ, it does not make us immune from these struggles or shield us from the pain we will face.  However in the midst of conflict, Jesus offers real hope.

In our gospel lesson, we are introduced to a woman in the synagogue who had been bent over in pain for 18 long years; she could not stand up straight. There are certain medical people who speculate that this woman might have suffered from a condition known as Marie Strumpell Disease, which is a fusion of the vertebrae within the spinal column.  In the early stages, people with severe back pain would often lean forward to gain some relief from the pain.  If a person continued to do that, let’s say over a period of years, the spine would gradually begin to fuse to the point where the person would stand in a bent like position.  I knew a lady in my first church who had a similar condition; she told me that her internal organs were affected as well.

There is no doubt that this woman in our gospel text suffered greatly. Add to that there were people who stared and perhaps avoided her.  Back then in the Jewish culture, some rabbi’s taught that a person received a medical defect or condition after having committed some secret type of sin.  Regardless of the cause, life was intolerable for this daughter of Abraham.

But you have to give her credit: in spite of her physical appearance and limitations; she was faithful to the house of the Lord. I believe she is symbolic of our hurts and needs and the compassion that Jesus showed is similar to the care in which he will respond to us.

Joni Eareckson Tada is a woman who is well known in Christian circles. Joni had become paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident when she was a teenager.  Shortly after her accident, there were a number of Christians who told her that it was God’s will and desire for her to be healed.  Those conversations convinced Joni that she too would receive a miraculous cure, just like the type she read about in the gospels.  So she assembled a group of ministers where they anointed her head with oil and then offered fervent prayers that she would get out of her wheelchair and walk.  Joni said “A week went by, then another, then another.  My body still had not gotten the message that I was healed.  Fingers and toes still did not respond to the mental command.  You can imagine the questions that began to pop up into my mind.  Is there some sin in my life?  Did I have enough faith?”  And for the next six years, Joni searched the Bible for answers.  Then she came to this conclusion.  “God certainly can and sometimes does heal people in a miraculous way.”  But she also learned that “God reserves the right to heal or not to heal as he sees fit.”  Joni continued:  “From time to time, God in his mercy, may grant us healing from disease as a gracious glimpse, a sneak preview of what is to come.  But in view of the fact that the kingdom has not yet come in its fullness, we are not to automatically expect it.”

In our gospel story, there was no known medical cure, but that was not a problem for Jesus as He healed this crippled woman. For Joni Eareckson Tada the healing was spiritual, not physical.  Therefore if we have a physical need, we should pray and trust God will answer our prayers in the manner he chooses.

Our final hymn in church this morning is called “He Touched Me.”   It shows how the Lord can change lives and minister to our hurts.  The lyrics are below:

Shackled by a heavy burden
Neath the load of guilt and shame
Then the hand of Jesus touched me
And now I am no longer the same

Since I met this blessed Savior
Since he cleaned and made me whole
Oh I never cease, never cease to praise Him
I’ll shout it while eternity rolls

Oh He touched me, oh He touched me
Oh He touched me, oh He touched me
And oh what a joy that floods my soul
Something happened and now I know
He touched me and made me whole

There is a difference between a physical cure and healing. During the “Joy and Concerns” portion of our service, we share news of people who are hurting and reports of people who have been physically cured.  As we pray for them, we know that if they have not been cured, they will be revived in soul and spirit.  Let us be open to the different ways of the Lord.

Now there is another aspect to this–compassion. Consider this story:  A number of years ago, six young men lined up for the 100 yard dash competition in the Special Olympics in Seattle, Washington.  When the starting gun went off, all the men took off in a sprint.  Halfway down the track, one of them stumbled and fell.  The other five men stopped and helped him up.  After they brushed him off, they decided to finish the race together, holding hands.  None of the judges could tell who won the blue ribbon; since they all came in together.  When the race ended, the crowd stood and cheered for 10 minutes.  These remarkable people showed more concern for an injured competitor than a trophy.

As Christian believers we too may play a part in the healing or helping of others. Many times we are called to serve as the hands of God as we minister to the hurts of others.  I’ve learned over the years that Jesus can directly minister to us, but he can also use us in various ways.

When it comes to human condition, we are like this nursery rhyme, “Humpty Dumpty.”
Humpty Dumpty, sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; All the King’s horses and all the King’s men; could not put Humpty together again.” People do hurt easily and none of the self-help books or different programs can fix broken lives. Pastor David Dykes of Discover Ministries wrote this stanza in relation to Humpty Dumpty, “Jesus Christ came to your wall; And on the cross, he died for your fall. Regardless of death and in spite of your sin; Through grace he can put you together again.”

If there are any hurts in your life, come to Jesus and let him minister to your hurts. Pray and see how the Lord will answer.  And be open to the possibility that you too could be used as instruments of God.

Sermon: Jesus Heals the Gerasene Demoniac

Jesus Heals the Gerasene Demoniac
Luke 8:26-39
19 June 2016

St. Augustine once said, “The devil is like a mad dog that is chained up. He is powerless to harm when we are outside his reach, but once we enter his circle, we expose ourselves again to injury or harm.”

Certainly in this day and age, we can see Augustine’s words ring true, especially after the world has witnessed another mass shooting, this time in Orlando.

My scripture text for this morning is about a man who somehow got inside the devil’s circle and had become possessed. But this story has a happy ending when he was delivered and his life restored.

Our text is Luke 8:26-39.
26Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

32Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

When Jesus arrived in the region of the Gadarenes, it was no accident. He knew there was once man who needed deliverance and our Lord traveled across the Sea of Galilee to find and deliver this man.  When they reached the shore, they were greeted by a scream that echoed throughout the hills.  Out of nowhere, a filthy looking naked man, with wild blazing eyes burst on the scene.  It appeared that the presence of Jesus upset him greatly.

I find it telling, that it was the supernatural forces of evil within the man who immediately recognized Christ’s divinity, but no one else did. Today evil, it is still with us, but it has changed its appearance.

  • What was once called demons is now called spirit guides.
  • What was once called séances is now called trance channeling.
  • What was once called reincarnation is now called regression therapy.
  • What was once called the occult is now called New Age.

The Bible speaks of evil spirits as a matter of fact without any excuse or apology. A lot of people have no problem with the supernatural forces of good, such as:

  • God
  • Jesus
  • Holy Spirit
  • Angels.

 

However when it comes to the supernatural forces of evil, it becomes a different story. We doubt the forces of evil with names such as these attached:

  • The devil,
  • Satan,
  • Lucifer
  • Demons or demon possession

 

There is widespread skepticism and even ridicule. That’s the postmodern world that we live in.

When I was stationed at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma in the late 1990’s, we lived about 5 miles from a small cemetery. There was one grave that had become a tourist attraction, the grave of the famous Indian, Geronimo; it was a 4’ pyramid of round stones.  People far and wide would come and leave coins, cigarettes, bottles of beer and other type of trinkets.  I later found out that Geronimo’s tomb was nationally known in psychic circles as a place to receive some type of “psychic energy.

The spirit world of today often takes on different forms and disguises. It appears innocent and harmless.  When a person begins to dabble in the “spirit world” it may seem interesting and fun, but depending on how deep you go, it could have an adverse effect.

In regards to the man of the tombs, we don’t know what he did or did not do, whether he was abused, had a bad childhood or had become involved in hallucinogenic drugs or participated in a form of Satanism. We do know he was forced out of the village.

Now I suppose if a psychologist or a psychiatrist had been present back then, this man could have been diagnosed with a variety of psychological disorders, but whatever the condition, this man was a total mess. No doubt he would have been hospitalized or given medication to control his behavior.

Root causes and diagnosis’ aside, Jesus arrived at the right time. Throughout the Gospels, when Jesus comes into a person’s life they are often challenged, upset or transformed, which was what happened in this case.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says: If any person is in Christ, they are a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things become new. 

Many of us have a testimony of how a personal relationship with Jesus helped or delivered us through difficulties, trials or temptation. There are others through the assistance of God, who have found their help through AA, the intervention of family and friends, medical doctors and counselors.  But the important thing is that God came into our lives and we were better for it.

There is one final thing that impressed me about this story.

Verse 39 Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

If they had Father’s Day back then, what a great gift Jesus gave to the man’s father. He probably had not seen him in years, but…

  • The man of the tombs was finally free.
  • Before he was violent, now he is peaceful.
  • Before he roamed naked in the cemetery, now he was fully clothed.
  • Before the evil forces possessed him, now he was in his right mind.
  • Before he was a terror, now he was full of gratitude.
  • Before he was hopelessly lost, now he was a child of God.

That’s the message in a nut shell. Do you need more of Christ in your life?  Jesus has the ability to change, release, or deliver a life for the better.  I have seen a bumper sticker that says, “Jesus is the answer; what is the question?”

Sermon: Fish for Breakfast

Fish for Breakfast
John 21:1-19
RUMC 10 April 2016

The great artist Michelangelo painted the many biblical scenes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.  To do this, he had to lie on his back on a scaffold (68 feet high).  It took five years to finish that great work of art in a space of 12,000 square feet. Centuries later, Michelangelo’s frescoes had significantly faded.  Because of this, Vatican officials decided it was time to clean and restore the entire ceiling.  So in 1981, the nine-year restoration work began.  Restorationists cleaned and restored the frescoes to their original beauty.  What is noteworthy is that it took twice as long to restore the ceiling as it took for Michelangelo to paint it.

Today’s scripture passage is also about restoration but it is not with furniture or artwork.  The scripture shows how Jesus restored the Apostle Peter.  This story makes it clear that one of the functions of the resurrection is restoration of relationships, deep forgiveness and subsequent service.

My text is the gospel story of breakfast on the beach, John 21:1-19.

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
This is the word of God.  Thanks be to God.

His name was Simon Peter.  We remember him as the disciple who tried to walk on water, but started to sink when his faith had faltered.  He was the one who testified that Jesus was the Son of God, yet denied him three times in a single night.

It was now the second week, Jesus had already appeared to his disciples on two occasions and here he stood on the shore.  It was in this third post resurrection experience that Jesus had some unfinished business to attend to.

In what may have been the first Christian prayer breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus turned to the fisherman and begun to question him.  You see, our Lord’s purpose was not to punish, but to bring Simon Peter back into a right relationship with God and the community of faith.

And that is what Jesus does with us; he will do all that it takes to get us back on track.  His desire is to restore us to the person he intended us to be.

One example of a person who needed restoration is Bill Wilson.  Bill’s problem was that he was an alcoholic who spent much of his time under the influence or in a hospital detox.  And it was in desperation that he cried out, “If there is a God, let him show himself to me.  I’m ready to do anything, anything.”  Then Bill experienced a sensation of bright light and a feeling of ecstasy and peace.  God answered his prayer and he was restored.  That experience changed Bill and in gratitude for this new life, he became the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Through this group, comes the grace of another day and countless people in 114 countries have experienced sobriety.  I would say that 99% of the AA meetings take place in churches.

Peter had denied our Lord three times, and it appeared he was at the point of no return.  To restore Peter, Jesus had to confront him; he did it through the method of question and answer.  Each question began with Simon, Son of John.  It sort of reminds me of when my mother wanted my complete attention; she would say in a rather demonstrative voice Paul Richard O’Neil.

  • Question 1. Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?  In other words, is there anything between us?  Such as position, title, spouse or child?
  • Question 2. Simon, son of John, do you love me?  In other words, will you deny me again at the first sign of trouble like you did a couple of weeks ago?
  • Question 3. Simon, son of John, do you love me?  In other words, have you placed yourself before me?  Am I first or second in your life?

The issue of what happened in Peter’s life had to be dealt with before he could move forward.  The questions were for Peter’s benefit.  And in the process, Peter was restored and was commissioned to take care of the souls of other people, to feed and tend to them.

A few years ago, Pastor Bob Ahlberg of the Hope Evangelical Church in Roscoe, Illinois faced a situation in his church that caused confusion and hard feelings.  A church member under their church polity and discipline was removed from church membership for repeated and unrepentant adultery.  I must say that something like this is extremely rare.

When the man heard of the church’s decision, he had become so angry that he said, “I know what you have to do, so do what you must, because I don’t care.  I plan to never darken the doors of this church again.”  The man divorced his wife in civil court and they went their separate ways.  However his ex-wife continued to attend worship services.  At cell group meetings and Bible studies, church members prayed for this man that he would be brought back into a right relationship with God.

Two years later, the ex-husband called the pastor and asked to see him.  In the office, the man deeply chastened, had said that the “Hound of Heaven” had been on his trail for nearly two years and he couldn’t take much more.  He wanted to confess his sin, turn from his wicked ways, and renew his marriage.  Even his ex-wife who said she could never trust him again, was amazed at the change in his life.

Let me explain what led to this.  After the divorce, this man who was in the Army Reserves was sent overseas and was assigned to the Graves Registration team.  His job was to process the remains of soldiers who died in Iraq.  Every day he was confronted with the brevity of life and the permanence of eternity.

When this man returned home after his tour of duty, he was guilt ridden; he decided to meet with the pastor and elders of the church.  There in the pastor’s office, he confessed his sin and asked to be forgiven of his arrogance and the impact that his life had on others.  He was warmly embraced and in time, his marriage was restored as well.  That is a true example of what happens when a person gets right with God; they often become reconciled with each other.

Today’s scripture is not only about Peter, but it is also about us.  We may not deserve mercy, but God loves us and it is in his best interest to get us cleaned up, straightened out and brought back into God’s good graces.

I believe most of us can testify to God’s forgiving grace when he restored us just as he did with Peter, Bill Wilson and the church member from Roscoe, Illinois.

UMC Hymn #394 is one that we sing from time to time.  It is called Something Beautiful.  The words are, “Something beautiful, something good; all my confusion he understood; all I had to offer him was brokenness and strife, but he made something beautiful of my life.” 

As Christian believers, we may be involved in helping those who have failed, whose lives have been ruined, shattered or messed up.  For those who have fallen on hard times, we need to be there for them, not to enable them, but to get them back on the right track.  When we do that, we do God’s work.