July 19, 2009

Sermon 7/19/2009


Sermon for Proper 11 B
July 19, 2009
Michael Coffey


There’s a branch of theology
called soteriology.
Hold on...it’s not that bad.
It’s just talk about
what salvation in Jesus means.
It’s a good question to ask
if we are thoughtful about our faith.
What does Jesus do for us?
It should be one of those questions we church folks know
and rattle off an answer without even thinking about it.
The old signs on downtown missions in neon crosses said it all:
Jesus Saves.
It’s so prevalent a saying that you can find in religious gift stores
a mug and brush set that say: Jesus Shaves.
You know that if you have been made into satire,
you have made it.

But if Jesus Saves is so common a way to say what Christian faith means,
what exactly does “Jesus saves” mean?
What does salvation in Jesus mean?
We think we got it somehow when we heard
that in Jesus our sins are forgiven,
so God won’t be mad at us any more,
so we won’t be cast off into the flames and fire.
Jesus saves us from, well, that place.
And since we’ve been living in a record setting heat wave,
we’re not so sure we got saved...

But the whole question and answer gets rephrased
when we read much of the Gospels,
especially stories like we hear today from Mark.
Jesus is with his disciples,
whom he sent out to do his ministry telling the good news of God
and to heal.
They have come back exhilarated but exhausted.
He sends them off for a day of rest.
That’s good stuff, by the way. We’ll come back to that.
Then, without enough rest,
they encounter a crowd of people in need,
and feed them
(even though our lectionary readings skip that today)
Then, they go off somewhere else,
and a whole mess of people come to Jesus
in need of healing, and they are healed.

If you have read Mark all the way through,
or if you have seen and heard the presentation of Mark on the video
I have shown a few times
you know that the entire first half of Mark
sounds like one healing story after another.
It is unmistakable in Mark,
as well as Luke and Matthew to some degree John,
that the good news of God that Jesus brings
has something to do with healing.

In fact, it’s in the very word salvation,
which means healing.
If you have a burn or a wound
and you put some kind of ointment on it,
that is called salve,
the root of salvation,
because it heals the wound.
Salve is also called balm,
like the stuff you put on your lips to heal them from dryness.
There is a balm in Gilead
the old spiritual goes,
to make the wounded whole,
there is a balm in Gilead
that heals the sin sick soul.
If we only hear and think
that the good news about God in Jesus
is that we are guilty people who need to be forgiven,
we have not heard the depth of God’s mercy and care.
The message of salvation in Jesus
is the message of healing in Jesus,
God’s healing of body, mind, and soul.

It is my guess that on any given Sunday
we all show up here for a myriad of reasons.
But it is also my guess that you can name for each of us
many ways we need to be healed in body, mind, and soul.
We might not be bold enough to think we’re going to get that
when we come to church,
but my guess is,
we come here searching for God in Jesus
among others who share our same need for healing.

We need healing on body, mind, and soul.
We need healing from hurt in the past.
We need healing from fear and anxiety and the pain of depression.
We need healing from cancer and arthritis.
We need healing from marriages gone sour.
We need healing from social injustice that either leaves us in misery,
or drives us to profit from other’s misery.
We need healing from modern rationalism
that leaves us cynical and unable to believe in much of anything.
We need healing from divisions between people
that wound the human community.
We need healing from our doubt that there is any way
we can actually know healing in our lives.

So after listening to texts like these
and pondering words like salvation
and knowing in my own bones the human condition all share,
it is my proposal that the heart of the Gospel message
is the good news that God is about the healing of our lives,
healing of our bodies,
healing of our minds,
healing of our souls,
healing of our relationships,
healing of our societies and nations,
healing of our envirnoment.

I wonder what it would be like if we reframed our liturgy
around the theme of healing more than the theme of forgiveness.
Don’t get me wrong here.
I think forgiveness is a real need
and the word of God that forgives is real.
But forgiveness itself is a matter of healing,
healing of a broken relationship with God and people,
healing of guilt-ridden souls,
healing of shamed and down-trodden minds.
It just isn’t he only kind of healing we all seek,
and I think the good news doesn’t reach us fully
when we keep offering one kind of medicine
for the multitude of ailments that afflict us.
It’s kind of like going to the doctor with a viral infection,
and she keeps giving you antibiotics,
which only heal bacterial infections.
And the result we have with continuing to do this,
is a lack of healing,
and a resistance to the antibiotics when we really need them.

So what if our worship and theology, which is what liturgy is about,
were reshaped around the good news of God’s healing?
We would gather at the beginning,
maybe not always confessing what we have done wrong,
but admitting our need for healing in body, mind, and spirit.
What if we enter into the time and space of a holy encounter with God
by naming our pain, and grief, and illness, and brokenness.
What if we confess that we are unable to heal ourselves,
and so we are completely dependent on God and others.
And what if those whose need for healing in any given week
was deeply felt and we gathered around them in prayer
by placing hands on them and anointing them with oil
and calling on the Spirit to bring healing power
in whatever way God will do that?

What if the bread and wine of Jesus
were not only addressing our need for forgiveness,
but also our need for healing from loneliness,
and hunger for God and friendship
and were the balm and salve for our bodies, minds, and souls?

And then,
what if we were sent out at the end
to be the healing for others that we ourselves have known in God?

I suppose the organization that got this the most right
is the Red Cross:
Through their dedication to healing all peoples,
the cross became primarily a symbol of healing, not judgment,
of help in time of need, not a question of your own worthiness.
It is of course, at the center of our national debate on health care,
that scandal of who gets healed and who does not in our society,
and however we find the ways to address that,
the fundamental issue for us is the compassion of God in Jesus
bringing healing to all peoples.

It seems to be that our present calling as the church
in today’s confusing and fragmented society,
is to be a center for healing,
healing of bodies, minds, souls,
healing of injustices and divisons,
healing of loneliness and friendlessness.
If you think of the church as a launching point
for the mission and ministry of healing,
then we get so much more of what the Gospels and the whole Bible
are about, and who God in Jesus is for us.
We get to address the needs of whole people,
and not just one aspect of our need.

There’s an old way of asking people about their faith,
and it isn’t very Lutheran.
It is to ask someone: did you get saved?
We don’t know what to do with language like that.
But if you translate that into: did you get healed?
We might understand what people’s experience
of an encounter with our merciful God is really about.

As I was reading one commentator for these readings,
Henry Brinton, a presbyterian pastor,
I was struck by how he understood the ministry of healing
as the mission of the church.
So I need to quote him:
A wildfire is raging. And it's wiping people out. All across Africa, an out-of-control inferno is consuming people at the rate of 5,500 per day. The death and destruction is horrifying—with men, women, and children being killed around the clock. 5,500 people every day. One person every fifteen seconds. That's why the rock star Bono, lead singer of the group U2, started jumping up and yelling "Fire!" back in 2002. He felt he needed to shout because few other people were raising the alarm. "It's not a cause," he said, "it's an emergency." The wildfire he was yelling about was not a real fire, racing across the landscape—it was AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). AIDS is the reason that an entire continent is going up in smoke.4 Although much progress has been made since 2002, the need is still enormous. Two million Africans died of AIDS in 2006, and the number of new cases—especially among women—continues to grow, and is outpacing the introduction of treatment services.
The question for us is this: Do we feel this same sense of compassion when we hear about the devastation of AIDS in Africa? Do we "suffer with" the men, women, and children who are infected with HIV, the AIDS virus, but are unable to afford the medication that will keep them alive? Are we moved with pity from the depths of our hearts … or are we merely annoyed, irritated, and frustrated? In 2002, Bono toured the American Midwest with a quiet African woman named Agnes. "I am from Uganda," she told a crowd of Christians in Louisville. "I once had 10 children … and we were very happy." Then her husband, a migrant worker, tested HIV-positive, and Agnes couldn't afford the medication necessary to keep him alive. "We bought it until we couldn't buy it any more," she explained, "and then we watched him die, without treatment." She learned that she too was infected, but she gained access to the anti-retroviral medicines that can keep AIDS in check. But then she found out that her youngest child was suffering from AIDS, which pained her deeply. "He's innocent," she said, "and he got the HIV from me. It was very difficult to me, but I tried to gain courage, and I prayed to my Lord." 6

If the mission of the church is the God’s word of healing,
bodies, minds, souls, societies, and the earth,
the task is, as the made up word says best: ginormous.
But empowered by the good news of God
that God’s own mission is this healing,
this renewal of life in this life and beyond,
then we have a tremendous source of energy and courage
to lead the world in the ways of healing.

It’s exhilarating and exhausting.
Remember those disciples sent out to do this stuff?
They came back, feeling like that.
And Jesus knew they themselves needed healing.
So he tried to give them a day of rest,
a day to recover, to heal their own bodies, minds, and souls,
before continuing the work of God’s healing in the world.
I imagine that’s what we are here for now,
after all the work we do each week,
the compassion we share
even as we know our own need for healing.
Rest. Recover. Know healing in your body, your mind, your soul.
This is God’s good gift for you.

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