Bridgewater, Massachusetts, March 17, 2002

Isaiah 6:1-8
Isaiahís commission

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty."

Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"

And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

Luke 9:1-6 Jesus sends out the twelve

When Jesus had called his twelve disciples together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: "Take nothing for the journey--no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them." So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.

Apocalypse Explained #825.3
Speaking and acting from the Lord

Good works are all the things we do, write, preach, and even speak, not from ourselves but from the Lord. And we act, write, preach, and speak from the Lord when we live according to the laws of our religion. . . . As much as we live according to our religion, we are led by the Lord. And as much as we are led by the Lord, the things that we do are good, since we are led to do good things and speak the truth for the sake of goodness and truth, and not for the sake of ourselves and the world. Doing useful things is our joy, and the truth is our delight. We are taught by the Lord daily what we must do and say, and what we must preach or write. For when evil things are moved away from us, we are constantly under the Lordís guidance, and we have enlightenment.

When Jesus had called his twelve disciples together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:1, 2)

When we read the Gospels--the stories of Jesus and his disciples--it is easy to simply read them as history. These are events that happened long ago to people who have long since lived out their lives on earth, and have gone on to eternal life. These stories are at a safe distance from us. A two thousand year distance.

Of course, if our interest in the Gospels is purely academic, this works just fine. We can study the history and culture of Bible times, and learn all sorts of fascinating tidbits from archaeology and parallel literary sources to round out our picture of the life and times of Jesus, Peter, James, John, and the others. We can fill our minds with a great deal of intellectual knowledge about the Bible stories. There are whole libraries full of books and whole colleges full of scholars to help us do just that.

But we donít come to church to study an interesting historical and literary specimen. We come to church to encounter God in the company of fellow spiritual seekers. And if we approach the Bible in this spirit, it can never be a mere historical and literary experience of a distant time and place. It is speaking to us! And it is speaking to us here and now!

Letís read those verses again, as if they are addressed to us: Jesus has called you and I, his disciples, together, and has given us power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases. He is sending us out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

Thatís a little different, isnít it! Perhaps a little too uncomfortably close to home? Jesus gives me power and authority to drive out all demons and cure diseases? Donít be ridiculous! Iím not a doctor. And Iím certainly not an exorcist! How can these words possibly be aimed at me? The disciples were special people, chosen by the Lord himself. I canít be expected to do what they did. And what about this business of preaching? Thatís for ministers! As for healing, Iím happy to leave it to the doctors.

These are some of the excuses we might make to avoid facing the force of the Lordís commission to us. With these excuses, we can escape our discomfort, and slip back into the comfortable role of an observer of what others are commanded to do.

The Lord will not force us to answer that call. If we choose not to think of it as being directed at us, we can let the words go in one ear and out the other, without making an impact on anything on their way through. We can choose to remain right where we are spiritually. Unfortunately, this really means that we will be coasting downhill. And sooner or later, we will realize that we are heading for the bottom of the hill.

The Lordís words are directed at us. The Bible is Godís word to all people. And each one of us is most definitely included in "all people." The Lord is offering us power to drive out demons and to cure diseases.

Some of us may take that call literally, becoming doctors or nurses or other health practitioners, engaged in the work of healing people from physical illnesses. Others become psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors, engaged in the work of driving out the demons of neurosis, dysfunction, and all manner of emotional and psychological demons.

Yet for many others, the call is not a literal one, but a metaphorical one--a "correspondential" one, to use Swedenborgís term. Yes, some people are called to heal physical diseases and drive out the demons that in todayís secular world we call "mental illness." But we are all called to heal ourselves and one another spiritually and emotionally, and to drive out spiritual demons such as hatred, revenge, jealousy, anger, disdain, and even such demons as apathy and depression. These and other influences from hell can "possess" us just as surely as demons possess human beings in the Gospels and in popular horror films.

The message of our Gospel reading for today is that the Lord is giving us the power to drive these demons out, first from ourselves, and then from those around us--if they want our help in their efforts to free themselves from their inner demons. And the Lord is giving us the power to heal our spiritual and emotional wounds--those open sores we carry around from painful encounters with others, or that we have inflicted on ourselves. And we are given power to heal one anotherís inner wounds as well.

It is a power we can exercise every day. We can exercise it toward ourselves when instead of being harshly critical of ourselves, we practice self-forgiveness. This does not mean papering over wrongs in ourselves that we need to be working on. Rather, it means recognizing that like every other human being on the planet, we are not perfect, but are works in progress. It means not dwelling morbidly on our faults and shortcomings, but instead minimizing them by focusing as much of our energy as we can on doing good things for ourselves and for others. Sometimes we can gradually starve out our faulty attitudes and behaviors simply by giving them less and less of our time and attention.

We can exercise our God-given power to heal others every time we come in contact with another person--whether it is in person or by phone, email, or letter. Our words and actions can either wound or heal.

We wound others when we focus on their bad parts and condemn them for it. We wound others when we assume they have bad intentions, or are just plain bad people, and treat them that way. We wound others when we bind their faults and shortcomings to them more firmly. Though we may not think we have any effect on the people around us, the fact is that people tend to live up--or down--to our expectations. For example, if we say to someone in our family, "Youíre so selfish! Youíre always doing selfish things!" they will be much more likely to actually be selfish--especially around us.

Even when we are dealing with the faults and shortcomings of those around us, we can heal rather than wounding. Itís all in our attitude toward the other person, and in how we express our thoughts and feelings. First we need to change our own attitude. We need to see the person we are dealing with as someone capable of becoming an angel--someone God is actively working on to fashion into an angel. And then we need to realize that our job is not to attach their faults more firmly to them, but rather to drive a wedge between them and their faults. The business of healing people spiritually is the business of separating them from their wrongs--their evils--and moving those evils farther and farther away from them.

Parents, teachers, and others who are involved with bringing up children have a special responsibility to do this with their children. Children, especially, respond very strongly--and often immediately, to our expectations. Of course, like the rest of us, theyíve got their rough edge. Sometimes theyíre going to act up no matter how well we treat them, and no matter how consciously we apply spiritual principles to their upbringing. With kids as with everyone else, there are going to be those times when all hell breaks loose!

Yet our attitude toward them, and the way we treat them day in and day out, will have a huge effect on whether that hell is a temporary thing that breaks out only to be overcome, or whether it settles in and takes over our childrenís character. If we think of them as little devils or little criminals, and treat them that way, they will obligingly become that for us. I believe that the majority of juvenile delinquents in our culture got that way, not because they chose to become bad people, but because they were treated like delinquents by parents, school, and society in general, and they lived down to those expectations.

We can heal our children instead of wounding them by treating them like people who may be temporarily possessed by devils, but who are really angels in the making. Instead of saying, "Youíre always selfish"--or nasty, or surly, or mean, or whatever the wrong behavior is that we see in them, we can say things like, "I know you can be better than that," or "I know there is a good person inside of you." And instead of being nasty or surly or mean back to them, we can treat them with the kindness and respect that we would like them to show to us. This does not mean letting them walk all over us! It is our job to remain firm in our resolve against accepting and condoning their wrong attitudes and behaviors. It does mean that as we provide direction and discipline, we do it with love in our hearts, keeping in mind the Lordís goal for each one of us: to turn us into beautiful, loving, and wise angels, joyously engaged in serving one anotherís needs and contributing to one anotherís happiness.

Though we donít have such direct responsibility for the behavior of other adults as we do for the behavior of our children, the same principles apply in our dealings with adult family members, friends, co-workers, and other acquaintances. Yes, as Jesus says, we do have to be "as shrewd as snakes" (Matthew 10:16) in our dealings with our fellow human beings. If we do not act with wisdom and discernment, we will not only be taken advantage of, but we will miss opportunities to heal hidden wounds that we would not even notice if we didnít pay close attention to a personís words and actions, and seek ways to heal those inner wounds instead of inflicting even more pain on the person by our reactions.

At the same time Jesus told us to be "shrewd as snakes," he also said to be "as harmless as doves." The physicianís motto is, "first, do no harm." We are dealing with many wounded people every day. Our first responsibility is not to wound them even more. If we do our best to live according to the laws of our religion--such as doing to others what we would have them do to us--we will be a healing influence in their lives.

So far we have been talking about the healing that the Lord sends us, his disciples and apostles, out to do. But the Lord also sends us out to preach the kingdom of God.

I think it would be safe to say that if weíre reluctant to go into the world as healers, weíre twice as reluctant to go into the world as preachers. Sometimes I think we ordain people just to make it safe for the rest of us not to preach! But thatís not the Lordís plan. Yes, he sent out twelve disciples with the command to preach the kingdom of God. But in the very next chapter, he sent out seventy-two. And as he sent them, he said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the harvest field" (Luke 10:2). If we simply extrapolated from twelve to seventy in perhaps a few months, by the time we reach today, two thousand years later, the numbers would come out that we are all called and sent out to preach the kingdom of God.

How do we do this, when most of us havenít been to theological school? Well, youíre in church today! You are coming before the Lord in prayer, hearing Godís Word read, and receiving a spiritual message, and sharing the experience with others here in church. All of this becomes a part of your mental and spiritual equipment. And all of it is to be used in spreading the good word to others, just as it was spread to you.

To illustrate this, please raise your hand if you became a part of this church or are here today because someone you know (perhaps your parents) originally brought you to church, or you were invited by someone who was a part of this congregation.

This is the power of preaching to one another. We preach to one another whenever we share the good news of what God has done for us and is doing for us. We preach the kingdom of God whenever we offer to others the same blessings that our church has given us for our own lives. We share the good news whenever we break out of our self-imposed barriers of shyness or awkwardness, and tell friends and family members (whom we think might be receptive) about the source our own spiritual strength and help.

This doesnít necessarily involve preparing finely worded statements to impart to our listeners. It can be as simple as what one of our dear departed members was doing shortly before she died. Irva Miller loved the teachings of our church; but she was not one to "preach" to people. Still she found ways of spreading the good word. When she was no longer able to do all her own housework, she hired a woman to come in and clean for her. As this woman did her work, she noticed a special glow about Irva that all of us who knew her felt. After a while, she asked Irva where she got that special glow. And Irva began to tell her about our church. She shared a little bit here and a little bit there. And she gave her pamphlets about our beliefs. If Irva had lived a little bit longer, it wouldnít surprise me if that cleaning lady were a member of our congregation today.

If Irva Miller could preach the good news of Godís kingdom at the ripe old age of eighty-six, then each of us can certainly do the same, in our own way. The Lord is saying to each one of us, as he said to Isaiah long ago, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And the Lord is listening for each one of us to respond, "Here am I. Send me!"


Special Thanks to Susan
of Point of Focus for her
beautiful graphics
Point of Focus Graphics

Music: Heart to Heart
© 2002 Bruce De Boer
and used with permission