The Healing Church
Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus.
– Luke 5:18
This weekend has been one of those deep dives into the rich community of Christ’s church. On Friday, I was blessed to be included in a dinner of the two sister churches who share our new facility in Temple City, Mideast Evangelical Church and Grace Taiwanese Presbyterian Church. On Saturday I witnessed a heartfelt farewell for Rev. Nancy Moore, who returned to “retirement” after eight wonderful years at Shepherd of the Valley Presbyterian Church. (I also went to a choir rehearsal for a concert of “Gloria” movements from various choral masses, which has become my personal source of energy and joy.) And on Sunday I attended a congregational meeting at a church in the midst of a critical time of transition, with all the uncertainty, grieving, and hope that accompanies significant change, even faithful and positive change.
During the weekend, I remembered one important aspect of Christian community—that the joys of some can encourage others who are struggling, and that the love and power of many can join together to bring a friend to the healing power of Jesus Christ. Even in the interviews leading up to this Saturday’s celebration of several new partners in ministry joining San Gabriel Presbytery, stories were shared of ways that a church, a pastor, or even a presbytery committee was able to say to someone in doubt or despair, “We see God’s call in you, even if you can’t right now.” And as I heard one church in celebration and confidence recall a time when they were at the brink of breaking apart, I could take hope to other churches in the midst of conflict with proof that healing and renewed ministry is possible. I have also been hearing the good news of welcome and care that our churches are showing to each other, as some of our church families are visiting other churches as a possible future home.
But being community isn’t just about providing encouragement and positive challenges to despair. At the dinner between Mideast Evangelical and Grace Taiwanese, we recalled amazing images from the turbulent times of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in early 2011, when Christians were being persecuted—and a group of Muslim neighbors encircled a Christian worship service to protect them. People of faith can follow their teachings to honor all life, whether or not we are in agreement.
In turn, Egyptian Christians did the same for Muslims in prayer; we must remember that the people most likely to be hurt in violence in the Middle East are Muslim.
In addition to mutual encouragement, teaching, and solidarity, many Christians will attest to the power of prayer in their healing. This was quite evident this weekend, as individuals recounted answered prayers, and ongoing prayers for individuals and families facing cancer, marital trouble, and grief, among so many other things that hurt us. I am encouraged by this, because sometimes I have feared that the mainline churches have become so rationalistic that we no longer believe that God has the power to heal, only doctors do.
So I am glad to hear many stories of answered prayers for healing, even as I consider the mystery of prayer. For instance, we Presbyterians believe that nothing is unknown to God or more powerful than God’s power to heal. And yet, Jesus tells us to pray. If God’s will and knowledge and power are supreme, what difference does it make whether we pray? I have no answer for this, except that throughout the Bible, we are told that God wants us to lift up our joys, our concerns, our thanks, for ourselves and for others. And so we pray.
The gospel story of healing in Luke 5:17-26 is a wonderful lesson about Christian community. The paralyzed man’s friends demonstrate prayer not only in word but also in action, or “prayer with legs.” We can bring our friends to God with spoken (or unspoken) prayer, and we can also do for others what they cannot do for themselves. As a presbytery, we have the opportunity to do the same for our partner churches. We can pray for each other, as we do with our weekly prayer calendar. We can help each other with words of encouragement, or by coming to each other’s special services (such as the ordinations and installations scheduled for this fall). And we can pray with action, by giving financial support to church mission projects or just to help a church keep its doors open. To a great extent, your support of the presbytery is your support of other churches, as most of the presbytery’s work is helping churches during pastoral transitions, or when facing severe challenges, or when they are embarking on a major new visioning process or mission initiative.
When Jesus heals people, he often says “your faith has made you well.” In today’s story, Jesus acts when he sees the faith of the man’s friends. I love that even if we are unable to help ourselves, even to go to God in prayer for ourselves, God in Jesus Christ recognizes the faith of others to intervene on our behalf. This is the mystery of prayer, and of the community of faith. As powerful as God is, God looks to us to lift up each other in prayer, and in action. May we do this every day, within our churches, and within our presbytery, that we may continue to grow in strength to share Christ’s healing power with a hurting world.
I do pray that you will be able to attend this Saturday’s presbytery meeting, as one small step in praying together with and for our churches and their new pastors. We have so many people to consider that some examinations (Stephanie Kang and Steve Wiebe) are happening under the CPM report starting around 9:30, then COM’s report will begin with Stephanie (chaplaincy and First Altadena), Steve (Pasadena), Brian Gaeta-Symonds (Claremont), and First Pomona’s innovative idea to become a joint witness. COM will return later in the meeting, starting around 11:30, to examine Deidra Goulding for ordination and to consider the transfers and calls of Tod Bolsinger (Fuller Seminary), Ralph Su (Good Shepherd), and Jessica Vaughan Lower (San Marino Community). Later today we will send an amended Presbytery packet to all presbytery commissioners, to include all these good folk.
May we be even stronger partners in ministry as Christ has called us together, for the sake of San Gabriel Valley, and for each other. See you Saturday.
Praying for healing and peace,