Calling Us to Health—For Ourselves, Our Church, Our World
by The Reverend Dr. Samuel Royappa
Today’s world, in many ways, is broken and people are going through difficult times. Rather than rejoicing, many of them are saddened because they feel the loss of something either permanent or temporary (e.g., a life, job, wealth, leader, resources, home, health, spouse, family, church). Loss causes pain. Pain causes hurt and injury. This is a psychological problem because emotions are involved. Life can be difficult. Crises do occur, and those realities must be faced.
Oswald Chambers said, “Life is more tragic than orderly.” I still remember what my Sunday School teacher once told us, in the context of teaching from Psalm 23, that God gave us a heart that is afraid of breaking. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” How can we, as God’s people, let our hearts not break but at the same time process the negative feelings and emotions and restore our hearts to the level of healing?
The Strength to Heal
In the second Beatitude, Jesus invites us to be aware of our emotions (e.g., mourning) and to draw strength and power from above: the divine power to deal with them. An author said, “God’s comfort cannot fully reach us until we are real people.” When we are willing to accept and acknowledge our emotions because of loss of someone or something and seek help, hope and healing from God, then transformation happens through comfort and consolation.
"We are called to honestly open ourselves and express our emotions—how sad, hurt, angry, or frustrated we are—to God in prayer. That enables us to surely experience God’s love followed by healing."
In other words, we are called to honestly open ourselves and express our emotions—how sad, hurt, angry, or frustrated we are—to God in prayer. That enables us to surely experience God’s love followed by healing. Then we become, as someone called God’s people, “wounded healers.” Without being healed by the power of God’s love, we cannot project ourselves as sources of God’s healing to the broken and hurting world. A Christian is the one who is cared and comforted by the power of God’s love for the sole purpose of caring and comforting others, not one who is called to be still in the pews and listen to sermons from the pulpit week after week. The great task of the Church is not only to get sinners into heaven but also to get the saints out of bed and into the pews.
A simple definition of the Church is “people”—people who share the love of Jesus Christ because He is the One who founded it. The Church was not the idea or invention of the disciples. They did not decide to get together and form an organization called the Church—it was founded by Christ. There are many reasons why Christ established the Church. I strongly believe that one reason was to continue the mission and ministry that Christ began.
Building a Healthy Church
Clergy and lay have equal responsibilities to be visionary and missionary leaders of today’s Church. If they are not healthy spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically, then the Church can’t be healthy. If and when the Church is not healthy, then the broken world cannot be transformed. Healthy clergy and laity make healthy churches, and in turn, healthy churches make a healthy world. The mission of The United Methodist Church or movement states that United Methodists are called to make healthy disciples of Jesus Christ that they may transform the world, a place where people of all ages, nations and races would find help, hope and healing.
In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, “I will build my church.” At the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:17-24), He told his disciples the parable of the “two builders.” Both scriptures remind us clearly that we are, as Christians, in the business of building, not breaking. The questions are: Where, what, how and why do we build?
We are called to build on rock, failing which we become victims of storms.
We are called to build God’s Kingdom through God's house (the church), failing which we lose our identity as Kingdom People.
We are called to build with God’s help and people’s strengths, failing which we lose our vision of God and people.
We are called to build because we are created, saved and sustained to be builders, failing which we lose our purpose and focus of life.
This is exactly what “Church health” looks like. A “rocky” church is so healthy that it cannot be shaken by any storm. The most significant thing that makes the difference is a foundation of health and strength. There is a beautiful song that originated in South Africa and was sung by those who waited patiently for liberation from apartheid. Two lines stand out. “Something inside so strong … I know that I can make it.” Health is not visible, but it ought to be strong, solid, stable and steady.
Abundant Life Eternal
Our Social Principles (162.V) define “health” as a “condition of physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being” and they are followed by John 10:10b: “I came that I may have life, and have it abundantly.” As a good and great Shepherd, God came to offer not just life as a gift, but an abundant life or fullness of life. Two words—“life” and “full”—are to be lifted up here.
Eugene Peterson interprets “full” as “real and eternal life, more and better life that they even dreamed of.” The Greek word perissos means “abundance” or “exceeding.” When the word is prefixed with huper, then the meaning is “overflowing.” Life is not meant to be empty or unhealthy but to be abundantly or exceedingly overflowing with more and better things, including health and strength. God, the Creator-Shepherd, designed our lives to be filled with all things that would make our lives better and brighter.
An abundant life is a healthy life. People would come knocking at our doors daily, wanting to learn how to live and lead a healthy abundant life. Let us never forget that God’s primary concern is to make us better Christians, not just with better feelings now and then, or on Sunday mornings, but better people of God.
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About Reverend Dr. Samuel Royappa
The Reverend Dr. Samuel Royappa serves as district superintendent of the Wisconsin Conference. He was born, raised, educated and ordained in The United Methodist Church in India. Rev. Royappa has been a member of the Church Systems Task Force since 2008 and a director of the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns since 2004. In 2012, he will serve as a jurisdictional conference delegate. He is passionate about strengthening and revitalizing local congregations so they can become healthy and more prosperous. His hope is that The United Methodist Church becomes a fruit-bearing church at all levels, so that the world can experience help, hope and healing. Rev. Royappa is married and has three children.