This will ultimately be about what I think is one of the most amazing stories in the Gospels that hardly ever is sermonized, but first . . .
In my very first part-time, learner’s permit, church appointments (I was still working full time at the University of Arkansas) I was assigned to be the part-time, local pastor of two small rural churches. One, in Winslow, was a United Methodist Church that is still a part of my heart and members have been here in Tanzania and still support our mission. Nothing but wonderful memories there. The other, though, was a community church that was only Methodist on the third Sunday, and if there was a fifth one, that Sunday, too. The other Sundays it was either Baptist or Presbyterian. I was very familiar with the United Methodist order of worship but the order of worship at Elkins Community Church was a patchwork affair trying to keep three different denominations happy. They also wanted to keep the standing-up/sitting-down bits to a real minimum, so everyone stood for the first hymn only and then sat for the first congregational prayer and everything else until the closing hymn. This works only if the pastor is paying attention and isn’t brand new to pastoring in general and this church in particular. So, not realizing I had done it, I accidentally skipped that first prayer and had everyone standing until the final hymn. I did think it odd that the whole congregation would stand for the entire service, but as I had no experience with Baptist or Presbyterian services, I just chalked it up to my ignorance (instead of my stupidity). The title of the final hymn was God’s way of slapping this young upstart upside the head. The final hymn was one I had never heard before, but one I have since never forgotten. It was, “Have You Forgotten to Pray” and I certainly had. I apologized profusely after the service and all I heard was, “That’s okay, but only once.” I am remembering this because in my recent bout with malaria, I did indeed forget to pray. I was so sick, it just never occurred to me to pray for myself. Now this brings me (kinda like a pinball game isn’t it?) to that amazing story in the Gospels. It’s about a healing done by Jesus but that wasn’t the amazing part. Jesus healed many, many people. No, the story I’m talking about is the one where a sick man’s friends lowered him through a hole in the roof of a house and Jesus duly healed him—but not because of his faith. Oh no, Jesus healed that man that day because of the faith of his friends. It’s not the only story of Jesus healing based on the faith of others, but it is the most dramatic. I’m mentioning it here because I am writing this as a healed man, but a man not healed because of his own faith but that of his friends. I was too sick to remember to pray, but we work here surrounded by a cloud of faith from people all over the world who sent up prayers for my healing—and God heard them. I am strong again not because of my faith but because of yours. I don’t know if the man in the story was grateful or not, but I really am. I was always dismissive of the man in the story because he didn’t have the faith to ask for healing, but, as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now I know the rest of the story.”