Wounded Healers

25 Aug

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Message shared at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost, Morning Prayer, Sunday August 25, 2019

Readings: Psalm 71: 1-6; Jeremiah 1: 4-10; Hebrews 12: 18-29; Luke 13: 10-17

….Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen (Psalm 19, NRSV).

“For indeed our God is a consuming fire”…well that’s a comforting thought, ‘eh? But let’s be honest, discipleship can certainly feel like that at times, as we muddle about in life, loving God and neighbor.  Case in point, allow me to share a misery of mine from this past week because misery seeks company, right?

As many of you know, I unexpectedly began living here, in Salisbury, just about five years ago. I help my mother care for her partner of 38 years, who has advanced dementia and congestive heart failure. While 90 years old, recently, she has been staying up beyond when mother and I go to bed, watching the Game Show network.  She just loves Steve Harvey and Family Feud.  Because of medical issues I have, I am quite committed to getting to bed at a certain time.  So, I was happily snug as a bug in a rug in my bed, for just over an hour, when all of a sudden, a loud noise and bright light jolts me awake.  With heart racing, I open my eyes and can just make out the door had been opened, with the annoyingly bright hallway light pouring in.  My attention is quickly drawn to a dark figure hovering over me.  The figure starts frantically exclaiming: “I can’t turn off the tv! The remote isn’t working!”  Sadly, I can’t tell you I was the epitome of St. Francis, because my first thought was ‘could you not see I was sleeping, you know, the closed door, darkened room, me under the sheets…no?’

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I gather my senses and realize that the noise was her walker banging against the door as she was opening it.  So, I get up and try to respond in an assuring way, and tell her let’s see what’s happening.  I pass her, and head out the door, take a couple of steps and my right -sockless- foot is consumed and sinks in something wet, cold, and…well chunky.  Evidently, our 15-year-old dog had thrown up after I had gone to bed.

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So, you can no doubt just imagine my posture, and thoughts, as I am still trying to wake up and still trying to gather my senses.

And of course, the issue wasn’t with the remote itself; she was simply using the wrong remote.  But, with dementia, anything out of the ordinary can be considered -and felt- as catastrophic, so once the t.v. was turned off, she calmed down.  And we both went to bed, which, for her culminated in another sound, restful, peaceful night.  And for me, – after cleaning my foot- I had a restless night, with deep sleep hard to resume or come by.

So…one of us, was restored; healed?  Well, with dementia, at least temporarily; that particular moment’s distress and anguish had indeed been alleviated.  And the other…wounded?  By dog vomit? Subsequent lack of sleep, with a sluggish day that followed?

…..Healing. Restoration. Renewal.  With today’s Gospel, we are again reminded that a great portion of Christ’s time was dedicated to healing and curing. We know the stories well.  We know he healed all kinds of people: the blind, the paralyzed, the lame, the deaf, lepers, those who had fevers, many with chronic illnesses.

In fact, earlier in Luke’s Gospel, we learn that John the Baptist sent two messengers to Jesus. They were tasked to ask him whether he was the one who is to come, or whether they were to wait for another. Luke specifically points out that Jesus had just cured many people of diseases, plagues, evil spirits and had given sight to many who were blind.  Jesus responds: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.  And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” (Luke 7: 18-23 NRSV).

Again, we know these stories well.  Perhaps too well; unfortunately, to our detriment.  We can’t possibly relate to the people observing or personally experiencing these healings nor do I think we can relate to the exhilaration that Luke’s initial target audience must have experienced when hearing about the healings during those first initial years the gospel was shared. Imagine this incredible newness; the awe; the wonder.  Perhaps feelings of…renewal?

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We know the woman in the synagogue is healed, on the sabbath.  We know Jesus chastises the hypocrisy of the synagogue leader.  Don’t try Jesus’s patience, on the sabbath of all days! But, do we know to read verses 18-21, in conjunction with this healing episode?  Those four additional verses are other well-known stories: the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the yeast.

When you get to a Bible, I encourage you to spend time with not only today’s Gospel, but also verses 18-21.  Because it’s clearly Luke’s intent that those parables go with the synagogue healing story, with a ‘therefore’ in verse 18 and an ‘again’ in verse 20.  ‘Therefore’ and ‘again’ are words that tie the story of Jesus healing the woman to his parables of what the kingdom of God is like (see Pervasiveness and Persistence by The Rev. William L. Ogburn, The Anglican Digest, Summer 2019, Vol. 61 No. 2).

And parables, in short, are tangible and engaging analogies that challenge us to encounter reality in a fresh way; parables are central to the way Jesus proclaims God’s reign (ibid p. 38). And when Jesus shares a parable, he is asking us to enter into the scene and to imagine ourselves there (ibid p. 39).

Let’s then briefly focus on the parable of the mustard seed, keeping in mind, it’s connected and tied to today’s Gospel story of the disabled woman who Jesus healed on the sabbath: He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like?  And to what should I compare it?  It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches” (Luke 13: 18-19 NRSV).

I’m not a gardener. And let’s just say I wouldn’t encourage any of you to ask me to look after any house plants you have should you be gone for an extended period of time.  But on the occasions that I have had the opportunity to accompany friends or family to any type of gardening type store or farm, I look at seeds, in awe and wonder – these tiny little seeds – knowing that if properly cultivated, it’ll – transform – into not only something bigger with totally different dimensions, but will bear a totally different character from a little seed.  A truly living entity.

We of course know that for that transformation from tiny seed to a full-grown tree, capable of hosting a bird nest, takes time.  And usually, as time passes, additional assistance is needed, whether rain from the sky, or other human endeavors to foster growth.  And then just imagine standing under that tree, consumed in its shade on a hot, hot day; you’re looking up, and seeing the birds of the air taking advantage of that full-grown tree.  Perhaps those birds, shall we say, plant little seedlings of their own (baby birds).  Oh, if those birds could talk, they’d probably be extremely grateful for the shelter and protection that nest provides, saving them from the elements and most predators.

Remember, the parable of the mustard seed is the first that Jesus shares to the synagogue leader, after he heals the disabled woman.  Therefore, the seed sapling to full grown tree, where the birds are eventually saved from toil and care, and where we can perhaps be renewed in its shade during a hot day, is like the kingdom of God.  Once planted, the living tree blossoms.

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I find myself back in that synagogue.  I am imagining how that woman will blossom, after 18 long years of suffering.  Jesus saved her from further physical misery.  The birds in our tree are saved from discomfort.  Jesus saves.  That, and Jesus is the way to salvation, unfortunately has become a loaded phrase in our culture, with both being weaponized way too many times.

Interestingly, the Latin root of the word ‘salvation’ or salvus literally means…healed. Christian philosopher and Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich wrote on this and explains that healing perhaps can mean a reunion with God, a reunion with God’s purpose for the world, a reunion with God’s purpose for our lives.   Salvation then is much more than simply not dying but it has to do with truly living.  And how do we truly live?  By letting go.  By letting go of that which is not ours to begin with: control. We did nothing to create or own our life, it’s a gift and we can do nothing to preserve or save it (see Saving by Rev. Aaron Houghton, March 16, 2018).

The woman had 18 long years of crippling misery.  My mother’s partner has no control over the literal loss of her memory.  The woman was cured; alas, my mother’s partner probably won’t be.  But she’s still saved.  St John tells us that we, whether encumbered by illness or not, are saved because God saves us – heals us- by loving us.  And God wants to be in relationship with us, right here, right now, even when we stray from God’s purpose.  Jesus reminds us that God is God of the living, not of the dead (Mark 12: 18-27, NRSV). We in turn, of course love God, but we can’t just stop there.  We love God, by turning towards Christ, and by loving and being in right relationship with our neighbor (see Saving by Rev. Aaron Houghton, March 16, 2018; see 1 John 4: 7-12, NRSV).  St. Ambrose of Milan reminds us that no one heals themselves by wounding another.

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We also heard this morning Jeremiah’s call.  While not many of us receive a prophet’s call, we can look to a portion of Jeremiah’s call for guidance and strength as we pray on our vocation: consecration, insecurity, building up and planting.  God knows us too.  At baptism, we are consecrated for service to the Lord. This community does a mighty fine job building each other up.  And what about planting?  Where is God calling you to plant?  Where is God calling St. Albans to plant?

……Your kingdom come; your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.  Yes, the woman is healed and therefore, remember, the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree.  To put it another way, think of it, not as God in the world…but the world in God.

Where is God calling you to heal?  Did you think of yourself as a healer prior to today?  Grant it, while Christ dwells in us (Romans 8: 9-11, NRSV), most of us will not be graced with beyond human ability to tenderly touch someone and immediately cure a devastating, physical ailment.  But I join you if you’re having doubts or feeling insecure as Jeremiah felt when he comprehended what God had in mind. ‘Healer’ would not be the first word I’d use to describe my character or essence.

A seed and a tree is one thing; it would sure be nice to have a blueprint wouldn’t it?  Even assuming everyone outside these walls were Christian, and we find ourselves in the midst of a Christian society, suffering is simply part of the human experience.  How can we heal being wounded ourselves, with the multitude of burdens we carry?

Poet T.S. Eliot addressed this.  He used in one of his greatest poems an image of the wounded surgeon: the surgeon who operates on the sick person but is himself bleeding, wounded, and suffering. This is the Christ-image, which, yes, is stark and shocking as the crucifixion should be stark and shocking had we not become…well, do I dare say, dull to it in many ways.  Calvary is our blue print (see The Crown and the Fire: Meditations on the Cross and the Life of the Spirit by N.T. Wright, p. 110).

Christ carried the burden of God’s consuming fire throughout his ministry: misunderstanding, from family and the disciples, long days, weary nights, combative conversations, to betrayal and eventually a battered, broken body, nailed to a cross.  We proclaim Christ crucified, whose weakness is far greater than our strength (see 1 Corinthians 1:23-25 NRSV).  But the cross is empty.  The good news remains; awe and wonder does too…with us.

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Which means, we, as wounded healers, have a job to do on this side of the kingdom, not just within our families and this congregation, but beyond these walls and in the community.  And the time is now.  Trees do take time to grow; no time like the present to plant that little seed.

What would this look like?  Well, in Eucharistic Prayer C we are reminded that we are not to go the Table solely for solace or pardon but for strength and renewal. So, I encourage folks to consider becoming a Eucharistic visitor.  Talk to —— about training opportunities.  You can be commissioned to take the sacrament to members who are unable to be at worship.  Also, pay attention to the monthly Herald and the community corner, where ——, —— and I have been highlighting local opportunities or places to serve – to heal- the Christ in others.  We are part of the city of the living God; sustained by God since our birth.  May we, with God’s help, seek to sustain others within the city.

Almighty God, give to us and all your people such a vision of your love, and such an understanding of the needs of our society, that we may be the means of bringing the two together, to the glory of your name and the healing of your world: through the fire of your Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (The Crown and the Fire: Meditations on the Cross and the Life of the Spirit by N.T. Wright, p. 117).

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One Response to “Wounded Healers”

  1. custodianiseed August 26, 2019 at 8:43 am #

    Reblogged this on Faintly Saintly and commented:
    “we, as wounded healers, have a job to do on this side of the kingdom, not just within our families and this congregation, but beyond these walls and in the community. And the time is now. Trees do take time to grow; no time like the present to plant that little seed.”

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