Out of the Ashes: Healing Psalm 23 John 9:1-17 March 30, 2014: Fourth Sunday in Lent Rev. Dr. Charles A. Parker

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1 Out of the Ashes: Healing Psalm 23 John 9:1-17 March 30, 2014: Fourth Sunday in Lent Rev. Dr. Charles A. Parker I. Introduction For the last several weeks, through the consummate Lenten discipline of repentance, we have been engaged in the process of identifying those places of sin and brokenness in our lives, as individuals and as a community, and inviting in the healing presence of the Holy Spirit. This is the classic Lenten discipline because our church has this deep understanding that if we are to be able to experience the forgiveness that God offers us on the cross of Jesus Christ, we have got to identify those places of brokenness and ask for forgiveness. If we are going to open up our lives to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, we have got to figure out those places that we are blocking the Spirit and invite healing into those places. So, we ve used the lectionary texts every week throughout this Lenten period to look at specific areas of sin and brokenness. Last week, as many of you know, we had a pulpit exchange between me and Ernest Lyles of Brighter Day. Ernest came up here, and I will say parenthetically, he had a great time and came back and particularly raving about both the hospitality and the choir, you all apparently just knocked it out of the park, so I m grateful for that. I will also say I had a great time because they know how to treat preachers at Brighter Day. I mean I love you all, but wow you really get treated like royalty, it was fabulous. I could get used to it!

2 Anyway, enough, we re talking about sin, right? So, we talked last week about racism and the sin of racism, how that impacts all of us. The week before, we talked about our call to hospitality and the brokenness of our immigration system. The week before that, we talked about our call to care for the Earth and the brokenness that results from the degradation of our Earth. Today s scripture is one of many stories of healing in the gospels and I thought it might provide a helpful opportunity for us to talk about health and healing, and specifically about the state of our healthcare system. II. Salvation and Healing The first thing to note is the ubiquity of stories about healing in the New Testament. Many spiritual teachers around the globe have been credited with some occasional healing that happens in the course of their ministry. What s interesting in the ministry of Jesus is how completely healing is tied up with everything that Jesus does. We tend to think of Jesus as a spiritual teacher, as the one who has shown us what it is like to be in relationship with God, so we focused a lot on his teaching, which is appropriate, but Jesus almost never talked when there wasn t also healing involved and this defines Jesus ministry. I mean, when the disciples of John the Baptist come to Jesus and ask him, because John the Baptist, you remember is in jail, and his disciples come to Jesus and say, Are you the Messiah or should we look for another? and Jesus says to them, Go and tell John what you hear and see, the blind receives sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. In other words here s how you know that God

3 is present and active in any situation, healing is happening. It s not just spiritual healing, it s physical healing as well. In this story we have this very profound sense in which all of who we are is interrelated. We are not spiritual beings who happen to find themselves in bodies as was sort of the predominant theory in Greek philosophy. We are body, mind and spirit all wrapped up together and all interacting with one another. We can t tease one out from the other so that our spiritual healing and our physical health and our emotional health are all tied up in this wondrous complexity of who we are. God desires our health in all of those areas. God s healing power is not just a spiritual power, it is a physical power and an emotional power. It is meant to minister to all of who we are. This is why in Deuteronomy we re called to praise God with our body, mind, and spirit and when in Jewish tradition you pray for someone s healing even if they ve come for a very specific type of healing, we pray for healing the body, mind, and spirit, because we have this deep sense that we are incarnational beings and that our physical healing and our spiritual healing and our emotional healing are all tied up together, and God desires healing for us in all of those areas. III. Through the Valley So, if God desires our healing, the natural question is, Why does healing seem to take place in some areas and not in others? or Why does healing happen to some people and not others? This, of course, is the classic theodicy question, Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? and it s voiced wonderfully by the disciples in the story that we heard this morning.

4 They see this blind man who has been blind his entire life and they right away go to the question, Why is he blind? and the assumption was somebody must ve done something wrong so who was it, who can we blame for this? Was it his parents, because he was born blind so maybe his parents did something wrong and their punishment was a blind child? Or maybe God, in God s infinite wisdom, knew that this guy would be a sinner and so he s punished him preemptively by blinding him? So, they come to Jesus and say, Explain this for us. Why did his blindness happen? and Jesus does two things that are very interesting, one of which is he doesn t answer the question at all. He says, Somebody s sin doesn t have anything to do with this. He says, But let s look at what the Holy Spirit is doing right now in this instance and how this is an opportunity to demonstrate God s power. The other thing he does that is interesting is he turns and he engages the blind man. The blind man up to this point of the story has been treated like an object, he s an object lesson. He s sitting right there, you can sort of picture the disciple say, Jesus tell us about this guy, like they couldn t talk to him directly. That s actually a helpful witness because we often treat people who are ill as if they were objects. Their illness is the thing that defines them. I actually had a conversation this week with one of our church family members who s got a chronic illness and was talking about how hard it is to be defined by that illness, that s what defines who I am. Jesus says, No, Jesus engages the guy because he is a person, he is a sacred child of God and he immediately shifts the philosophical-theological question to the person that the question is about.

5 The disciples, of course, are not alone in this. This is a really interesting story. This is not New York City, we re talking about a little town in Galilee where this happens and this guy has been in that town for his whole life. Everybody in this town has been walking by this guy for decades while he begs, and the minute he gets sight, nobody knows who he is. They were all arguing, Is this the guy that s been begging? like he visibly changed somehow. No, they had to engage him in a different way. They had to treat him like an individual rather than an object lesson. Jesus moves from the theoretical-philosophical question to engaging with the person who was suffering, and in that process, he models so beautifully what the psalmist is talking about in Psalm 23. The psalmist in Psalm 23 doesn t wonder why he is in the valley of the shadow of death; he assumes that s just going to happen periodically, we re all going to end up there. It s not about something you did wrong that you are being punished for, we re going to be led to the valley of the shadow of death, it s going to happen. Interestingly, the psalmist also doesn t say, Get me out of here, right? Make it better. What the psalmist says is, You re with me; now work with me, thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. We always go back to the King James right, because that s the language Jesus spoke. What it s about is presence, it s about the fact that God chooses to be with us in those places of brokenness, the places that need healing. So, we can ask questions all day long about why suffering happens. We don t know. What we do know is that God chooses to be with us in those places, and invites us therefore as God s hands and feet in this world to also be in those places with those who are suffering. We don t like that, very often, because to be somebody in the place of someone else s illness

6 and suffering often necessitates our having to deal with our own frailties, our own fear and our own mortality. So, we don t engage. We shuffle people off to hospitals and nursing homes and places where they re getting cared for instead of engaging them. What we have in this wonderful Psalm and this wonderful story from John is an invitation to engage, to be present with those who are sick and in need of healing. And we are enormously blessed in our church to have an amazing team of volunteers and staff who work in this area. So, one of the invitations to you all this morning is: is there a place for you in one of those ministries to visit with those who are sick in the hospital, to visit with those who are suffering from chronic health problems because our call is to be with them in the same way that God is with them and with us? So, the first invitation there, I think, is an invitation to accompany, to be with those who are suffering. The next piece, of course, is an invitation to be in prayer, with those and for those who are suffering from ailments. When Drema stands up here every single Sunday and tells us who is on the prayer list and who is in the hospital, this is not because she is trying to share news with you. We can get you the news in the bulletin; we share it in the worship service because part of our call is to pray for those who are sick. We understand that God is not going to heal all of those people in the same way, but we also understand that when we invite God s presence into areas of brokenness and sickness that we open up opportunities for the Holy Spirit to move and to transform in ways that weren t there before. So, prayer, whether for ourselves or for those around us who are sick, is about inviting the Spirit to move in the situations where for whatever reason the Spirit was being blocked before. So, a ministry of

7 intercessory prayer is about holding up people who are in need, people who are experiencing brokenness of body, mind and spirit, and inviting in the transforming power of God. IV. Health Care System Lastly, if God desires our physical, spiritual, and mental health, and we as disciples are called to engage in ministry of healing and health, we have a very profound call to work, to change the system of healthcare in our country so that everyone has access to healthcare. I m going to try not to overstate this but I m going to tell you that in my opinion, to live in the richest country in the history of the world, and to have millions of people without access to basic healthcare is an abomination. This is a sign of profound brokenness in our country. You can argue about how we provide access to healthcare all day long and that s fine, but what I m telling you is our call is to make sure that everybody has access to healthcare. When we re engaged in the fierce national debate that we ve been in and we ll continue to be in, again, argue all you want about how that best gets provided, but what I m telling you right now is our call is to make sure that it gets provided. I would tell you I ve got some disappointments about Mr. Obama s Affordable Healthcare Act II, but frankly, it s mostly because it didn t go nearly far enough to making sure that there is universal access to healthcare in our country. And dear friends, if you think this is all about other folks, please think again. This is not about those people who don t have health insurance. This is about us; this is about our church family. I will tell you that my own family has members who have worked their entire lives and have done so without healthcare, and they got health insurance last

8 year for the first time in their lives. And we have people in our church family who have been working their entire lives and got health insurance last year for the first time in ages. This is a subject that impacts all of us and it requires our voice as Christian disciples. V. Conclusion I want to close with one thing I learned from our friends at Brighter Day last week. We have a very wondrous and ancient tradition in our church of anointing the sick with oil, because we are incarnational people and oil has for millennia been used as an instrument to communicate God s healing to people who are sick. You all probably know that the word Christ means anointed one, one who is anointed for leadership and we have this very rich tradition of anointing those in our community who are sick. We re going to move right now into a brief time of anointing for those who are sick, and I want to also suggest that part of our tradition is even if we are not the people who are sick, we can also offer ourselves on behalf of others for anointing. So, if you know somebody who is sick but maybe not here or maybe self-conscious about coming up, I want to invite you also to come forward, to receive anointing on their behalf as we hold in prayer those who are in need of God s healing. At Brighter Day, I learned last week, they do this after every single service and they get handfuls of oil to share with all of the people who come forward to ask for prayers. Jason is going to be in the Phillips chapel to my left and Drema and I will be up here and I want to invite any who feel called to come forward for anointing of oil and offering of prayer for healing.

9 If you know specific healing areas that you want to share, we ll pray for those. If you want to keep that to yourself, that s fine. We ll just give you sort of a general prayer and anointing but this is a rich part of our tradition that I want to offer us this morning and let s just take a few moments as we gather and pray for one another and offer a sign of God s healing presence. Amen.

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