Healing In Our Midst

As we begin exploring these passages together, I hope you’ll take a minute to look at the image on your bulletin. It is a pen and ink drawing of the healing of Simon Peter’s Mother-in-law by the Dutch painter, Rembrandt. Several of his paintings were illustrations of Biblical events. At least one book has been written about the value of reflecting on his work, and while his children were baptized in the Dutch Reformed tradition, he never claimed status in the church.

I say all of this because he was a man that has influenced countless others, yet – like many famous artists – he lived a difficult life and died penniless. This was the man behind the paintbrush that gave us this image, and the image reminds me that there is yet healing in the midst of suffering.

This is the second healing narrative that we’ve had in a row, if you count exorcism as healing. I have to say that I find the idea of faith healing just about as troubling as I do exorcisms. They are hard because they represent a world view that can be fanatical, and they come from a time of pre-scientific inquiry.

That said, there is clear scientific evidence that faith matters in healing. It matters when we pray for others, and prayer has an even greater impact when the person knows that she or he is being prayed for. It matters when we attend to our own spirituality in order to mend the disconnect between our bodies and souls. It doesn’t work like magic, no matter how much we wish it did, but it works all the same.

And just as we cannot neglect the reality of the power that comes from reconciling the disconnect between our bodies and our souls, we have to recognize the disconnect we find between one another. It seems that for all the technology that we create to share and connect more of the events of our days, we are becoming ever more disconnected.

Children and youth seem to be particularly at risk, and I’m not just being an old guy that complains about social media because I use it, too. In fact, I recently posted an article on the topic that tells a story of a young teen with an eating disorder and quotes the following from a study by Jean Twenge, author of iGen:

“Using data collected between 2010 and 2015 from more than 500,000 adolescents nationwide, study found kids who spent three hours or more a day on smartphones or other electronic devices were 34% more likely to suffer at least one suicide-related outcome—including feeling hopeless or seriously considering suicide—than kids who used devices two hours a day or less. Among kids who used electronic devices five or more hours a day, 48% had at least one suicide-related outcome.”
So, what do we do with these devices often made by slaves that have come to enslave us? They’ve become indispensable in our society. We could start a movement to get rid of them, but that would be about like the boy with his finger in the hole in the dam.

According to the blog post, we must instead “tether ourselves” to one another in new ways. We must find ways to be together physically as much as we are virtually. We must demonstrate the value of each other by the offering of our time together.

Now, I think there’s a lot of truth in that, but I think that there is one thing more. We have to realize the idolatry of things – and even more so of the self (dare I say selfie) – that is every bit as much a part of this as anything else. God even asks us this question in Isaiah – “What are you going to compare me with? An idol? Really? Who do you think made all of this stuff?”

OK, God didn’t make tech, but God made the stuff that made the stuff. And God made the people and gave inspiration. And what have we done with it? Well, according to Brenne Brown, a nationally recognized researcher and speaker, the research shows that not only are we less connected individually, we are less connected as social groups.

Brene was the guest preacher at the National Capitol Cathedral a few weeks ago, and I highly recommend that you check out her sermon on line (See what I did there?). She essentially describes us as having become more and more isolated into “social bunkers” full of people that we agree with, and the net result is that we are becoming lonelier.

Now, you may say, “Loneliness isn’t that bad. Buck up. Get over it.” Yet, according to her research, loneliness is a higher predictor of early death than smoking, obesity, and even excessive drinking. And it’s not just her research. Apparently, loneliness is considered so problematic in the UK – you know, the ones leaving the EU – that they have hired a Minister for Loneliness to address it as a public health crisis.

As a social scientist she sees this like a canary in a coal mine, and she’s looking for answers. What she believes as a Christian is that there is something greater that holds us and connects us – whether we like it or not – and that something is God. She also believes that we cannot sever that connection, even though we can live as though it does not exist. And when we do that, we neglect the humanity of the other. And when we do that, we neglect and deny a bit of our own.

So, what do we do? Well, according to her research, we have to find ways to be in relationships with people that we don’t agree with and may not even like. And isn’t that what we hope to do here? We hold hands with strangers. We pass the peace that goes beyond understanding – peace that is not dependent on our ability to understand.

We break bread. We share moments of collective joy and pain. We might even, as she said, “pass the peace with someone you would really rather frog in the arm than even smile at.” We do these things because in this place we reclaim what it means to be a child of God so that in that place – wherever that is – we can demonstrate a belief that someone else is, too.

In this place, we are here not only the comforting words of Isaiah that we will be lifted as on eagle’s wings, but also the dismissive, loving, parental God saying, “Why is this even a thing? Why have you set yourself up like this? Do you not know who I am? Do you not see the beauty of creation? Do you not hear my love song for you in the trees and the wind, and even in the face of the one who would do you harm?”

This is the place where we hear Paul say that he is free, and that because of this freedom he is also bound to choose to limit himself. Our freedom in Christ is not the same as self-determinism. Our freedom in Christ is the freedom to connect with others through becoming vulnerable to one another!

For at the core of the Gospel message that we have received today is the power for healing found in our relationships with one another. In these relationships we must be like the disciples – willing to talk about pain and suffering, and willing to look to God for healing and wholeness.

In these relationships we must even be like Jesus – willing to see the wounds of others, to support them, and to lift them up. I’m not saying that this is how we cure cancer. I’m saying that this is how we cure discord and hatred and make it a world worth fighting for. And yeah, maybe that will lead to the curing of all kinds of disease as we realign our priorities from profitability to relationships and healing.

And finally, we must be like Peter’s Mother-in-law – whose first response to healing was service. You see the good news is not that Jesus did this cool thing so long ago. The good news is that Jesus initiated patterns of living that can bring about wholeness and healing. That’s why he didn’t stay. That’s how he silenced demons and spiritual forces, and that’s what we participate in every time we break the bread and share the cup.

In fact, I want to remind you of an old tradition today. When I was a boy, as we passed the bread we said to one another, “This is the body of Christ broken for you.” Sometimes you’ll also hear me say, “This is the bread of heaven, come down for you.” And when we passed the cup we would say, “This is the blood of Christ shed for you.” And sometimes you will hear me say, “This is the cup of eternal life, given for you.”

Now, I don’t care if you get the words right. It’s not an incantation. What I want you to do is to think about what it is that you are doing. Think about what it means to you to share in this sacred making event with the person next to you. When you pass the elements today, tell your neighbor what you are giving them. And when you receive, remember that this is be given by God through the person next to you. So, don’t say thank you to the person. If you need to say anything, just say, “Thanks be to God.”

In that attitude, with the idea that healing is already taking place, let us continue to give thanks and praise – even here and even now – so that we can be a part of the healing that is yet to come. And for that I say, to God be the Glory, now and always. Amen!

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