Further reflections on faith in Luke’s gospel.

I pondered the relationship between faith and healing in the gospel in a previous blog.  In this blog I look deeper into how faith is used in Luke’s gospel. I will be looking at an incident recorded at the end of chapter 8 where Jesus heals the daughter of Jairus whilst also healing a woman with chronic bleeding. I will also look at the feeding of 5,000 which immediately follows.

Jesus tells the woman that her faith has healed her, which occurred by her touching his garment and then presenting herself to him. Immediately afterwards he encourages Jairus to have faith, to believe.

48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

49 While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.”

50 Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”

The women showed faith in daring to touch Jesus, trusting that doing so would result in healing.

Clearly Jairus’s faith was helped by seeing that Jesus declared power had gone out from him before he even knew that the woman was healed. If someone touching him could have that effect, what would happen if Jesus himself came to touch a dead little girl?

Seeing Jesus at work helps us to have faith. When we see the impact of faith our faith strengthens.

It is also worth noting the role touching plays in both episodes. In a world before modern hygiene, before soap, before running water and drains there were numbers of different things in place to maintain public health. The Jewish law contained many such rules designed to keep people from disease. Two of them prohibited Jews from touching corpses or women with internal bleeding. Both these taboos, these laws, were being broken by Jesus.

By doing so Jesus was incurring double pollution. This helps us understand what we really have faith in, what Jesus has come to do. Jesus shares the pollution of sickness and death, but the power of his own love turns that pollution into wholeness and hope.

This is followed by the feeding of 5,000 from five loaves and a couple of fish, the lunch of a small boy. Over the years this has been explained away as one boy’s generosity leads others to also donate their lunches so that everyone gets fed, an ancient bring and share meal. Explaining things in this way means our faith is focused on the generosity of people when encouraged by the example of others. That is not how Jesus or Luke intends us to understand this incident. That is not the faith found here.

If the disciples knew that many in the crowd had food, there wouldn’t have been a crisis in the first place. We are meant to not look for simple explanations, to have faith in the inherent goodness of mankind is easy! The disciples were called to move into the unknown and once there, trust God completely, when they were sent out in pairs into the community faith as well as when faced with a hungry crowd. Faith means the same for us, moving into the unknown and looking to God not man, however scary it maybe.

We are not to exercise “blind faith”, to believe that Jesus is a showman or magician willing to do tricks to order. Jesus dismissed this temptation of the Devil out of hand. However, we are called to believe that Jesus could on occasion allow God’s creative power to flow through him to perform miracles, as we have seen in healing and now in this feeding miracle. We are to live lives of faith, trusting in the creative power of God flowing through us.

The relationship between faith and healing

As I mentioned in my last blog, I have been prayerfully working my way through Luke’s gospel in preparation for a new preaching series in 2022.

In considering chapter 7 I was drawn to consider the role of faith in healing. Often Jesus would comment “your faith has healed you.” E.g., Luke 8v48 and 18v42.

In Luke 7 we have a Roman Centurion who had a good relationship with the Jewish leaders. His servant was sick and he asked the elders to plead with Jesus to heal the servant. The heart of the episode is when the Centurion told Jesus he didn’t deserve for him to even enter his house. As a soldier he knew about authority and recognised it in Jesus, he therefore knew Jesus could just say the word and healing would take place.

Jesus commented that he had not found such faith even in Israel and healed the servant.

An extraordinary healing which demonstrated the relationship between healing and faith. As in other episodes faith led to healing.

However, just in case the readers of the gospel came to a simplistic equation relating faith to healing Luke follows this up with an even more amazing healing miracle, Jesus raises the widow of Nairn’s son from the dead during a funeral procession! Jesus seeing the distress of the widow losing her only son, his heart went out to her. He then gives life to the young man. The crowd are reminded of a similar miracle performed many years ago by Elijah. They recognised Jesus as a great prophet similar to Elijah.

In this case the healing was not linked to anyone’s faith, it was motivated solely by the compassion of Jesus. I am sure that Luke purposely placed these two miracles next to one another to help us realise that healing is a mystery, we cannot simplistically say faith leads to healing or healing requires faith. God is not constrained by our faith; he will do what he will do.

Whilst as we have seen at times healing is linked to someone’s faith, this is not always the case. Not just here but in other places, e.g., the healing of Peter’s mother in law. Luke 4v38.

As a mathematician I link simple equations. Things of God are rarely like that, we have to embrace mystery.

Which God do you believe in?

I have been reading and meditating on Luke’s gospel in preparation for a preaching series in early 2022.

Today I spent time considering Luke 6v27-38. Shown below in the Message version which I think brings a freshness to the passage.

27-30 “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more payback. Live generously.

31-34 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.

35-36 “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.

37-38 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”

The whole passage is disturbingly straightforward, and because of that challenging, and difficult for us to avoid the direct instructions.

I think the most important verse is

 Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.

We are to be the people the passage describes because that is what God is like. God is generous to everyone, he provides good things for all the enjoy, undeserving and deserving. He is incredibly merciful. Is this the God you believe in? It is only when we discover this God, allow the truth of who this God is to overwhelm us, that we will have any chance of making this way of life our own.

This is a list of instructions describing who our God is and the way of life that follows from that. Let us be honest, this has not always been how all Christians have viewed God. For some their God is nothing like the God Jesus describes here. Some seem to believe in a gloomy God, a penny-pinching mean God, or a God who makes life difficult for us. This passage also gives a lie to the fact that all religions are the same, all God’s are not the same. It is so important what God we believe in because how we live flows from that belief. This God, as described by Jesus, is different. Therefore the way of life of his followers is different.

Jesus did these things himself. That is why the crowds gathered. His whole life was one of exuberant generosity, giving all he’d got to give to everyone who needed it. He knew himself the extravagant love of his Father, and the call to live a lavish human life in response. When he was struck on the cheek and had the cloak stripped from his back he kept on loving and forgiving. He didn’t just show love to his friends, he wept over the city that had rejected him. He embodied the God he spoke of.

Is this the God you believe in? If it is then we need to emulate him, following these simple, clear, and direct instructions. We also need to be aware how rare it is to find people living in this way. Which will cause people to take note. However, it all starts with us knowing the character of God as Jesus described and modelled.

 

The importance of Christmas

The New Testament gives much greater prominence to the events of Easter than they do Christmas. The letters do not mention the events of Christmas, two of the four gospels pass over the events of Jesus birth. The events of Jesus death are prominent on all the gospel and is prominent in the letters, as Paul says his preaching was focused on Easter

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2.

Yet the modern world embraces Christmas and gives the events of Jesus birth a far greater prominence than it ever does Easter. Whilst the spiritual aspect of Christmas are often overwhelmed by partying and extravagance there is still a recognition of a baby and a basic understanding of the Christmas story.

The birth of a baby is easier to handle and incorporate into modern sensibilities than the horrendous, painful death of the man the baby grew up to be. Easter isn’t easy to meditate on, isn’t easy to comfortably spend time with. Hence it being replaced by Easter bunnies and the like.

Yet Christmas, the baby, is only significant because of who the baby was and what happened to him. It is Easter that gives Christmas its importance and significance. Without Easter Christmas lacks its full meaning.

As Christians we need to remember the end of the story as we contemplate its beginning with an angel and a manger.

The importance of conscience

By John Greenall

On November 11th the law came into force that ‘anyone working or volunteering in a care home will need to be fully vaccinated against coronavirus (COVID-19), unless exempt.’ All frontline healthcare staff will be asked to do the same by April 2022. It is predicted that numerous staff will leave the profession rather than have the vaccine.

 

The reasons for this seem obvious on the surface. We are told that vaccinations will protect vulnerable people who care workers (and later all NHS staff) encounter. There is strong public support for this given the nervousness around ongoing high rates of coronavirus infection and the news that a hight number of COVID cases were contracted in hospitals. Many of us are sensitive to the fact we have relatives in care homes but also those who are clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV). Surely our instinct should be to protect those who are vulnerable. For the ‘strong’ to modify their behaviour to protect the ‘weak’. And of course, no man is an island! In our society we regularly restrict our freedoms to protect others.

 

And yet.

 

I’m going to argue that mandating vaccines for healthcare workers is a profoundly bad idea and should trouble us, whether we are Christians or not. We’ll then consider what it means for us at Hope Church. Here’s some reasons:

 

  1. It won’t keep you ‘safe’. We have data on the AstraZeneca and Pfizer jabs. They are thought to reduce transmission by 36% and 65% respectively (we have no data yet for other vaccines). However, by 3 months this reduces to no difference, and one must account for the fact many who won’t feel unwell enough to be off work will work and still be at risk of transmitting COVID. The point is vaccines are one part of a wider strategy. They may see a small decrease in transmission but will need to be combined with other measures.

 

  1. Government priorities are varied. Governments are elected by the public and will therefore respond to public pressure. There is overwhelming support for vaccine mandates from a fearful public (I think understandably given the use of fear to drive behaviour in 2020). The government comes across very well here as ‘protecting people’, ‘doing what it takes’ and ensuring a healthcare workforce are healthy enough to be in work. It is important to recognise that reducing COVID rates are not the only motivation for a government – that’s just how it is as they look at the bigger picture.

 

  1. Vaccines have never been mandated before. We need to see that this really is a HUGE step. In the face of many outbreaks of serious illness we have never mandated a vaccine before, especially one that is still so new to market with a limited track history. We know from countries like France that enforcing vaccines backfires – people decide to refuse vaccines in the medium to long run, causing far more disease as a result.

 

  1. Honouring conscience. I would argue that mandating a vaccine counts as coercion (defined as the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats – in this case the threat of losing your job). To pass a law like this, the government is overriding a personal decision made in good conscience (defined as ‘a person’s moral sense of right and wrong, viewed as acting as a guide to one’s behaviour’). The UN Convention of Human Rights Article 9 states that to do this a government must be convinced that such interventions must be lawful, legitimate and proportionate.

So, is a vaccine mandate legitimate and proportionate (now that it is lawful)? We know there are many people who, for various reasons, do not want to take a vaccine. It is easy for people to simply throw stones and accuse them of being selfish. Or of being taken in by conspiracy theories. Apart from the fact that mandating something will just entrench anyone in those positions (and some do of course exist!), most vaccine refusers I meet have other reasons* that are being refused exempt status. Personally, I feel there is enough evidence and reason for these NOT to be barriers. But that’s me, coming from my background, with my perspective. To say the conscience of another should be overruled is a serious thing and I would argue, disproportionate to the benefit it may produce.

 

  1. A reduced and impoverished workforce. Care workers are leaving, in a profession which relies on the goodwill of people often paid similarly to a fast-food position. The sector is already understaffed, and it is quite feasible that further reductions will cause far more harm to clients and CEV people. In addition, it causes further harm, in particular to BAME groups who are often in the majority of care home staff. Instead of dismissing concerns and calling on people to ‘just get on with it and get the jab’ we need to listen carefully to concerns around historical abuses of power, and through patient and respectful dialogue seek to persuade people to have the jab (more than anything because of the evidence it will protect them far more than it protects others!).

 

  1. A coercive environment. We have moved hugely over the past 2 years to a position where the government have mandated restrictions to the private life of their citizens. A simple reading of history (or look at the book ‘Brave New World’) tells us where things go and the worst thing about it is that people willingly accept intrusions into privacy and personal life in the name of safety. We become pleased when others are coerced to keep us ‘safe’, without considering the long-term impact of such a worldview. I don’t think ‘the government is calculating secretly to ‘take control of our lives’ – instead it’s a progressive move where people genuinely call on the government to protect them and will sacrifice more and more liberties to do so. Governments want re-election so will go with it and give what the majority want as stated above. Freedom of conscience and freedom from coercion are fundamental aspects of our society: there will be all sorts of unforeseen consequences down the road if we don’t value them properly. Consider a position you hold in conscience. Perhaps it’s the right to determine how you bring up your child. Perhaps it’s the right to gather for public worship. I could go on. The point is, people have died for our country to be a place where people are free to choose. Whether I agree or not with that, it is a nuclear option to railroad conscience.

 

As Christians

I believe that as Christians we should look to protect the right to freedom of conscience and belief. Above all else, it will lead to a more healthy and united society.

 

Within our church I would urge us not to make a disputable matter an issue of division. I believe Romans 14 speaks to us here. We are called to welcome and not despise our brothers and sisters who are fully convinced in their own minds that they cannot in good conscience take this vaccine. It is not for us to pass judgment on one another on disputable matters, ultimately each of us will give an account to God and it is before him that we stand or fall (see verse 13). Perhaps the ‘stronger’ vaccinated Christian can support, stand up and speak for the ‘weaker’ unvaccinated brother’s freedom of conscience in healthcare and wider society.

 

 

*Such reasons include those rooted in historical suspicion of government mandates, especially for some ethnic minority groups. Objections around the complicity in abortions in the making of some of the vaccines. Fear of side effects, which, despite a presentation of the evidence, someone still decides that they have autonomy over their body and what goes into it.

Emmet Till and the birth of the Civil Rights movement in America

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I have been aware of the civil rights movement in America and the role of Martin Luther King as the co-ordinator first locally and then nationally. How Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person which led to a bus boycott that sparked the nationwide movement. However, until recently, I was unaware of the episode that proceeded this, that caused Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and others to say enough is enough.

In 1955 just a couple of years before I was born a young teenager, Emmet Till, moved from Chicago to Mississippi in the south of America. Coming from the North he was unaware of the tensions between blacks and whites in the south. He reportedly whistled at a white lady and said, “bye baby”. This was enough for him to be beaten, shot and his weighted down dead body thrown into the river.

Emmet’s mother was a Christian who refused to allow this act to be swept under the carpet. When the broken body was returned to Chicago, she insisted on an open casket so that everyone could see what had been done to her 14 year old son. As one commentator says, she exposed white brutality and black faith to the world. Six hundred thousand people viewed his bruised body and attended the funeral and millions more saw photos that went viral around the world.

Two wite men admitted in court that they had kidnapped the boy however an all-white jury acquitted them of all charges after just an hour deliberation.

Within three months of the death of Emmet Till the bus boycott had begun in Montgomery and the Civil Rights movement was born.

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