Commerce Presbyterian Church
February 8, 2015
A service of healing and wholeness
Former Haitian President, Catholic Priest Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide said during a homily in a Haitian church in 1986:
“People [often] read the Gospel as if it pertained [only] to another place and time;
but, the struggles described [in the gospels] are in the here and now.
The oppression of the poor, the abuse of the vulnerable,
and the redemption that comes with fighting for what is right—
what ideas could be more relevant to our dear Haiti?” (mass St. Jean Bosco, 1986 as remembered by Paul Farmer and recorded by Tracy Kidder in Mountains beyond Mountains: 105:2003).
The oppression of the poor, the abuse of the vulnerable, and the redemption that comes with fighting for what is right--What ideas could be more relevant in our dear United States of America?
Yes, I believe the work and message of Jesus is as relevant as ever, and is the work of the church, on our behalf, and carried out by us.
The fame of Jesus has quickly spread.
Now, the scripture says, the whole town gathered at the door where he was.
Who were these masses coming to Jesus?
In Jesus’ day, there was a significant gap between the haves and the have nots. Over 90% of the population were peasants in a primarily agrarian economy.
There was taxation from the religious establishment, as well as from an occupying Roman government.
It’s not hard to imagine this whole town coming to Jesus are among the most poor.
Disease and physical disability were knotted together with the cycle of poverty.
In the specific individuals described later in Mark–the paralytic (2:1ff) the bleeding woman (5:25ff)--we find isolation and desperation, as the larger society would have treated them as unclean.
For those who have fallen too ill and cannot work, on what could they rely to feed their families?
These are those gathered at the door; they hoped and believed Jesus would perform a miracle.
For those who have no other outlet to articulate their hopes…
miracle is everything….[Meyers, quoting Theissen:144:1995].
For many, belief in miracles--in healing miracles--is dismissed, because there are other options available, good doctors and hospitals, a decent safety net;
we have also come a long way in the way we treat those who are have physical disabilities, thanks to the american disability act of 1990,
as well as the way we treat those with various conditions, such as leprosy or HIV. But more recent outbreaks of measles and ebola quickly send us back to panicked states when we are not sure what is fact and what is fiction.
Of course, there are those for whom miracle is the best and only option in our day:
I saw this among the Pentecostal immigrant group which used our church facility in Santa Fe for worship. Their pastor told me most didn’t have medical insurance,
couldn’t afford and/or worried about getting, medical care, so they depended greatly on prayer, and healing miracles.
The greek word Mark uses which is translated as “heal” is therapeuo, from which our word therapy comes.
In classical Greek, this word meant to “treat medically”.
Does this imply that Jesus cured the sick by treating them medically?
Was Jesus playing doctor?
Zia, who has had her fair share of visits to the doctor, loves to play doctor; putting on her plastic stethoscope and sticking water filled plastic play syringes into my mouth and squirting it with water that came from who knows where!
From what we can gather from medical anthropology, Jesus was not diagnosing symptoms. He didn’t take out his stethoscope to listen to a pulse, or take a temperature, and use any type of syringe. He did not diagnose nor prescribe medicine.
We don't think this type of medical practice didn’t exist in his day.
What he did do is see people, the paralytics, the lepers, even the mother--in-laws,
those who were not able to fulfill their societal position,
the outcast, the untouchables,
those considered unclean..such as the man with the unclean spirit…
and he connected with them.
He touched them to heal them. And through his touch, and connection somehow, miraculously, they were made well.
Jesus had such a connection with God--I love that Mark includes Jesus going off to pray alone as part of the story. Don’t you think that detail could have been easily left out?
It must have been such an important part of Jesus ministry.
Rising early, going off to pray alone.
His closest friends had no idea where he might be!
His closest friends had no idea where he might be!
I believe that connection with God through prayer, allowed for a connection with others through real power in his touch.
People were made well.
Through his touch were people given a sense of self-worth, and allowed to once again connect with society?
I’ve heard stories this week of people in this congregation who not only appreciated but sensed a difference when the doctor or one of the caregivers took the time to pray with them while they were patients. I am experiencing this now, as I get physical therapy, and I know my therapist takes time to pray each morning before he begins his practice. Healing is taking place.
Apart from physical conditions, we suffer from emotional and psychological conditions which can lead us to a sense of isolation--a lack of connection.
As I mentioned last week, many of us, no matter our societal condition or position struggle with a sense of unworthiness which can strain our relationships.
Pain we experience is real. How do we deal with it?
As a society we are pretty heavily medicated.
We self medicate with illegal or legal drugs.
We’re an addicted people--addicted to work, to exercise, to diet coke….
We numb ourselves with Television.
And, as suggested last week, at the root of much of our struggles is a lack of sense of connection.
a lack of a sense of worthiness. of purpose.
a lack of a sense of meaning.
What happens if we find little meaning in our jobs, or have no job?
What happens when we struggle with our relationships with families, or others?
What happens when we get caught in a system, or a condition, which constantly pushes us down?
Many of us know what it can be like to be at a low point, at a place of desperation.
But, how often is it when we get to that terrible place, when we discover that is just the place we need to be to in order for us to grow in our relationship with God. Our lowest points, when we most desperately need connection.
At our lowest points we may find ourselves closest to God, God right there with us.
I love the image of Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law.
She is bedridden, who knows for how long, unable to attend to her guests, or do much of anything.
And he comes, and lifts her up.
Jesus lifts up, almost as a way to remind us, we are not our own masters, our life is dependent on the Great Physician, who came to heal the sick, to seek the lost, the redeem the world.
And what happens when we can lift up as well.
Lift up those who are struggling, with prayer.
Lift up those that are facing hard times through encouragement.
Use uplifting language and have an uplifting disposition.
This world can get us down in a hurry,
but what happens when we defy down getting reality because our hope is in the one who is doing the heavy lifting, raising us up each morning to face a new day!
This is the ministry of the church.
Churches can forget we have this calling.
We can get down on one another real quick.
Take one another for granted. Get down on others and on life when we feel things don’t go our way.
But miracles still take place in church where there is that lifting up spirit.
I have seen the church be the loving healing hands of Jesus.
Our dear friend Kevin is one such person who the church has helped to lift up.
Kevin, a gay man, was diagnosed with HIV in the 90s.
For years he lived in isolation, in depression.
Days would go by in which he wouldn’t get out of bed except to go to the bathroom, and on occasion eat.
He was estranged from his family;
his promising career as a chef had been taken away from him.
Somehow, he was able to move past some of his hurt and pain, and enter the doors of a church that was welcoming to him; he said it was God who got him to go!
He showed up every Sunday because he knew people loved him, and did not judge him in this church.
It was amazing over time to watch him come alive!
His gifts for cooking were quickly recognized and soon he was helping prepare meals for funerals or receptions after church. He cooked one of the most amazing spreads for Ruby’s third birthday.
The four course dinner he made for Trasie and me on one of our anniversaries is one I will never forget.
Apart from his cooking, he became a most faithful deacon, faithfully visiting those in the congregation who were sick and homebound, and people welcomed him...and he prayed for them. He lived a life of prayer. Making crosses was one of his favorite hobbies, he loved, I think, what the cross symbolizes, sacrifice, love, forgiveness, new life!
Each and every time we gather we can carry out this ministry of lifting up. And today we’re going to do it in a special way.
Our affirmation of faith this morning is not an ancient creedal statement, rather an ancient practice.
For the first time since I have been here, although I don’t think it the first time for the community, elders are going to pray for those who would like prayers for healing, either for themselves or on behalf of someone else.
This church believes in prayer. We have a whole list of people on this prayer list for whom we are praying. Let’s be the church, let’s carry on the uplifting ministry of Jesus, and pray for one another.
The power of loving touch, faithful laying on of hands, placing our hands in the hands of another, or on the shoulder of another to pray, signing someone with the cross is miraculous…
Susan will lead us in a prayer for the people, and then, six elders will be in different places in the sanctuary available for those who would like prayer.
You may have something you want to share, or you may just say, pray for me.
You may want to have prayers for someone else.
The elder will hear your prayers, and then lay hands on you to pray for you.
“People [often] read the Gospel as if it [only] pertained to another place and time, but the struggles described [in the gospels] are in the here and now.