Last week I told the story of my calling to Lane Memorial UMC, and the ways in which I believe God led me here to be among you.  As I reflected on that story this week while I read the scripture from Deuteronomy, I thought about what things must have been like on this end of the congregation.   At Horeb, the people had requested a mediator because they felt that if they stood in God’s presence, they would die.  What would happen when this mediator God had chosen in Moses was gone?  Who would stand in between them and God to deliver God’s message?  Further, an important thing to note in the background is that as these stories were likely being written down in the sixth century is not that God is right there trying to speak to them, but because they are in exile, they are wondering where God has gone?[1]

Moses assures them that “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet” (Deut. 18.15).  Moses’ words offer assurance both to those addressees when Moses said them as well as to those who would be writing them down because they could trust that God had sent them prophets to reliably deliver God’s messages to them in both circumstances.

It is a scary thought to think about losing a leader.  I can imagine the anxiety that must have existed here at Lane in the months after Rick announced that he would be retiring?  Who will the next pastor be?  What will he or she be like?  Can he or she ever do as good of a job as Rick has done?  Perhaps, you may have even thought, “We just got finished breaking in Rick, and now we’ll have to start over again!”[2]  If that anxiety existed here, imagine how those Israelites felt.

This is Moses we’re talking about!  Moses was the kind of leader to which no one could compare.  At the end of Deuteronomy, we hear “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face (Deut. 34.10).”  Yet, Moses assures them that God has it covered.  In our United Methodist Church, where our pastors itinerate, we probably get that kind of “leadership anxiety” more often than other churches.  Moving around our pastors has its benefits as well as its problems, but it is part of how we understand ourselves as a connectional church.  It leads us regularly asking the question, “What will our next leader be like?”

Moses’ response to the anxiety of the Israelites is telling.   God assures the Israelites that these prophets will be raised up “from among your own people” (Deut. 18.15).  This, I think, should be a word of comfort to us when we begin to have “leadership anxiety.”  While the pastor plays an important role in the leadership of a church, God promises that there will be those from among the people whom God will raise up.  Just as God was preparing the way for me to be here, God was preparing to raise up leaders from among this congregation.  Pastors who share leadership and lay people who are invested and equipped leaders are  a sign of healthy congregations.

Pastors who try to put on a super-hero cap and want to take on everything themselves are robbing their members of opportunities to share leadership.  Opportunities to hear God’s voice, like Samuel a couple of weeks ago.  Conversely, many congregations are famous for doing what I like to call “outsourcing our baptismal vows.”  Congregations who expect their pastor or other staff members to do all of the ministry are attempting to outsource the vows that we repeat every time we baptize a person about creating a community of love and forgiveness.  Except we all make that promise.

God intends for us to serve together, drawing together ordained leaders with those leaders from the priesthood of all believers who God raises up.  In these weeks following Epiphany, we have seen a consistent stream of stories about calling.  We hear about Samuel.  We hear about Jonah.  We hear about the call of the disciples.  Last week, I talked a little about my calling last week, but this week we find ourselves encountered by the call before each of us.  This call that God would raise up people from among us.

The “leadership anxiety” that we experience in churches when there are pastoral changes also regularly ripple throughout the life of The United Methodist and many other churches.  As we watch decline in our denomination, we begin to wonder, from where will the next generation of leaders come?  Moses answers us.  “From among your own people!”  However, we have a role to play in this.  It is the role of the Elis and Samuels we heard about two weeks ago.  When we begin to live into that role among ourselves, leadership begins to bubble up as we begin to hear the different callings people have on their lives.  Yet, the question may arise…”Moses here is talking about a prophet.  This is a particular office, isn’t it?  Surely we’re not all called to be prophets like Samuel? Or like Isaiah?  Are there really prophets any more?”

To answer this, we turn to the Gospel lesson.  During the past two weeks, each of the Gospel lessons has featured Jesus calling the disciples.  Yet, our Gospel lesson today features something different.  It shifts away from directly talking about the call of Jesus to begin speaking about his miracles.  Why does this happen?  We said that none of us will stack up to Moses.  That is, no one except Jesus.

In the Deuteronomy text, the Israelites say they don’t want to stand in God’s presence because it is too terrifying and they fear that they will die.  Yet, in Jesus Christ, God’s presence comes to us because God’s Word has taken on flesh and dwells among us.  A prophet no longer mediates the Word in the same way.  The Word is a prophet, the prophet, and yet he is more.  The Word, the message once in need of mediation, has now lived among us.  We now expect to encounter God directly.

Not only do we expect to encounter God directly, but also we find the expectation on us that we will be like Jesus.  Jesus makes it clear that those who believe in him will do the works he does, and they will actually do greater works (John 14.12)!  When the disciples follow Jesus, their role is not simply to be amazed by what Jesus does.  They are being trained “on the job” to do what Jesus does.  This means that while Jesus is the pre-eminent prophet, we, the members of his body should expect to be prophetic in our lives speaking out against injustice, idolatry, and brokenness.  Further, this means that in our Gospel lesson today, when we see Jesus heal the man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit, they are, we are watching an act in which they, and we, are supposed to participate![3]  We are expected to be healers.

This begs the obvious question.  What does it look like for us to go about healing?  I imagine, if you’re like me, that you’re skeptical of this.  We conjure up images of televangelists in fine suits with Rolexes places their hands on someone, crying for the demon to “come out!” as the person falls to the ground.  Yet, as uncomfortable as we are with the image, Mark is not so uncomfortable.  First of all, what is amazing to Mark, is not simply that Jesus casts out the demon.  There were plenty of people walking around claiming to do this all the time in Jesus’ day.  What is amazing, as one commentator points out, was “the authority with which he did so. He did not call upon any other authority in the spirit world to act. Jesus spoke the word, ‘Shut up, and come out of him!’”[4]  Jesus doesn’t need any help.  He relies on his own authority.

Second, it is clear that Mark isn’t as uncomfortable as we are because Mark, as another commentator points out, “more than another Gospel writer, emphasizes Jesus’ miraculous power to heal and to exorcise.  Of the eighteen miracles recorded in Mark, thirteen have to do with healing, and four of the thirteen are exorcisms.”[5]  Mark isn’t scared of this.  What are we to make of this?  Does it mean that if we aren’t healed we don’t have enough faith?  How are we to think about this, especially if we are called to have some role in repeating it as disciples of Jesus?

I think part of the answer is that our vision of “healing” is too narrow.[6]  It is formed by the faith-healer charlatans, and it is characterized based on what our understanding of health is.  But health is wider, salvation means healing!  In reality, Jesus didn’t only heal people because he was moved by their illness and suffering; rather, the healings that Jesus performed were symptomatic of a deeper healing.[7]  Jesus’ life itself is a story of healing because the healing of all humanity was enacted by the fact that God became human.[8]

It is not as if God is somehow hiding in the man Jesus, and revealing God’s self on occasion to perform healings. Jesus’ life is healing. Our healing actually comes from Jesus’ humanity.  Jesus is one who is saving his own people![9]  The healings like the ones we see in the Gospels happen because who Jesus is as both God and human is already effecting our healing.[10] Healing can only happen because the divinity and the humanity are both there.  Our sickness is healed because Jesus shares our flesh.   God becoming human was necessary because of the fact that all of us suffer from such a deep sickness that we fail even to recognize how diseased we are, and even if we do, the sickness has such a hold on us that we can’t get free of it on our own.[11]  To be healed doesn’t mean that we won’t die.  To be healed means that we are part of the one who brings resurrection.

Does this mean we shouldn’t pray for healing from illnesses?  Absolutely not.  We should continue to pray for healing.  But we shouldn’t understand healing in such a limited way.  Our faith shouldn’t be broken when people still die.  Rather, what we see in Jesus’ life, is that each and every one of us is in need of healing.   So, as the disciples watched our lesson for today unfold, they were witnessing a sign of a healing they were also undergoing.  The works the disciples did came only as a result of the healing that Jesus effected in them.  We, who are called to do what Jesus did, can only be healers in the world because we know what it’s like to be healed.  We can only bring God’s healing to other because we ourselves have been and are still being healed.

How does this connect back with the Deuteronomy lesson?  God promises to raise up leadership from among us.  Rather than being people who are called to break in and take control, leaders in the church are shaped by their “followership.”[12]  Those who God raises up are recipients of healing, and they are called to lead others into healing.  Further, each and every one of us, no matter the role we are to play in the life of the church are being healed, and we are called to be healers.  Jesus chose to take on our flesh, and by doing so, he already began to heal us.  We bring healing to others as Jesus’ disciples because we have experienced Jesus’ healing presence in our lives.  Yet, we recognize that there are many things that are not healed in us yet.

And this morning, as we have thought about our call, as we have thought about God’s provision of leaders, and as we have thought about healing, I’m asking:  Where do need healing?  Where do you need healing, so that you can bring healing to others?  I’m not putting any kind of parameters on this question.  I don’t need to because even now, many of you are bringing to mind what needs healing.  What healing needs to happen in your life, so that you can bring healing to others?  What healing needs to happen, so that you can bring healing to others?  In just a few minutes, we will have the opportunity to undergo the historic church practice of anointing.  Since the beginning, the church has brought anointing and laying on of hands to pray for healing.  Today we will share in that practice, praying for healing, so that we might live God’ call on our lives and bringing God’s healing to others.  Where do you need healing, so that you can bring healing to others?


[1] Richard A. Puckett, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 1, (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox, 2008), p. 293.

[2] William J. Carl III, “Homiletical Perspective,” Feasting, p. 291.

[3] “OT/Gospel Stream: This Call’s for You, 1 — Prophets and Deliverers,” United Methodist General Board of Discipleship Lectionary Planning Helps, Online:  http://www.gbod.org/site/c.nhLRJ2PMKsG/b.3879973/k.9C35/Lectionary_Planning_Helps_for_Sundays.htm, cited January 29, 2012.

[5] P.C. Enniss, “Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting, p. 310.

[6] My understanding of healing from this perspective was, and continues to be, formed and shaped by J. Kameron Carter’s Christology class he taught during the Spring Semester of 2008 while I was working on my Master of Theology degree at Duke University Divinity School.  This explains why my footnotes for this section of the sermon are so detailed!

[7] “We do not really grasp Jesus’ cures, which include the healing of those considered possessed, if we understand them solely as miracles performed for individuals out of sympathy for their illness.  Since the eschatological horizon of Jesus’ activity has reentered consciousness, it has been clear that Jesus’ miracles of healing must be seen in connection with his preaching of the kingdom of God.” Gerhard Lohfink, Jesus and Community, trans. by John P. Galvin, (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1982), p. 12.

[8] “It is as one who is God that he took flesh and it is as one who was in flesh that he divinized the flesh.”  St. Athanasius, Orations against the Arians in The Christological Controversy, trans. and edited by Richard A. Norris, Jr., (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1980), p. 97.

[9] “In this way he saved his own people, not as a man conjoined to God, but as God who has come in the likeness of those who were in danger, so that in him first of all the human race might be refashioned to what it was in the beginning.” St. Cyril of Alexandria, On The Unity of Christ, trans. by John Anthony McGuckin, (Crestwood, New York:  St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995), p. 88.

[10] “The question ‘Who?’ is simply the religious question.  It is the question about the other person and his claim, about the other being, about the other authority. It is the question of love for one’s neighbour.  Questions of transcendence and of existence become questions concerning the person.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center, trans. by Edwin H. Robertson, (New York, NY:  Harper-Collins, 1978), p. 31.

[11] “A person who has of his own accord bound himself to a debt which he cannot repay, has thrown himself into this state of incapacity by his guilt.  As a result, he is unable to repay what he owed before his sin, that is, an obligation not to sin, and the fact that he is in debt as a consequence of his sin is inexcusable.” St. Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, translated by Brian Davies and G.R. Evans, (London:  Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 310.

[12] Kenneth L. Carder and Layece C. Warner, Grace to Lead:  Practicing Leadership in the Wesleyan Tradition,  (Nashville:  United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, 2010), p. 10.

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