July 17, 2022 ~ 6th Sunday after Pentecost
Discipleship by the Sea ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
In my family, going to the Great New York State Fair is a cherished family tradition. One of the curiosities we usually need to satisfy is going through the Center of Progress building to see what new products will be for sale and how vendors will be trying to sell them. One year, a salesperson was demonstrating unbreakable combs! As these professional sales demonstrators do, he tried to impress the people who stopped by to look by putting the comb through all sorts of torture and stress.
Finally, to impress even the skeptics in the crowd, he bent the comb completely in half, and it snapped with a loud crack. Without missing a beat, he bravely held up both halves of the “unbreakable comb” for everyone to see and said, “And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what an unbreakable comb looks like on the inside!
Most of us, at one point or another in our younger years, considered ourselves to be “unbreakable.” We thought of ourselves as invincible, too tough to conquer, indestructible, shatterproof, unbeatable. That is, at least until we cracked while facing a major life crisis. Yes, that is something we all hold in common, too. Perhaps it was a diagnosis, an accident, the loss of a cherished friend, a failure, the perfect relationship fractured, the undeserved stress, the poor decision, the betrayal, the misplaced values, the unmet expectations. We’ve all cracked under pressure at least once!
Jesus knew something about brokenness and stress, even early on in his ministry. As we pick up Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry still only in the third chapter, we already find that Jesus needed to call students and invite prospective believers to live a new way. He needed to prove his authority was from God alone by performing miracles, including healings. Jesus’ family thought he had lost his mind, claiming to be the Son of God. They tried to get him to “go home” rather than to draw that kind of attention to himself. He already had religious leaders plotting to get rid of him because he was breaking the rules and undermining the control of religious dogma. The Pharisees think he is a phony, a law-breaker, perhaps the devil on earth.
And yet, Jesus had become so popular for his miracle-working power that unmanageable crowds followed him as he made a journey through the towns along the shore of the sea. So why does Jesus continue this ministry of healing and working miracles? In the gospel of John it states that Jesus continued so that people would believe and have life. Both Mark and John state that Jesus needs to give evidence that he has authority to forgive sins. But above all else, all of the gospel writers convey that Jesus cared for the people, he had compassion for them, and thus healed the sick and diseased, the marginalized and spiritually broken.
There is no set criteria or method for Jesus’ healings. Some involved touch: Jesus touched those to be healed, or the infirmed reached out to touch Jesus. Some were not even present was when they were healed. Some were just instructed to follow the ritual for cleanliness by presenting themselves in the Temple. Others received mud packs. Sometimes Jesus credited a person’s faith for their healing, and at times he credited the faith of others. Sometimes there was no mention of faith at all.
The intention of the conveyance of Jesus’ healing power was just to heal and forgive. Jesus healed folks of mental, physical, spiritual, and relational brokenness, and brought restoration. What needed to be restored? Anything that was broken: a disease or infirmity; lack of faith or guilt over one’s behavior; greed, stinginess, attitudes, and long-held biases; self-esteem and broken hearts.
Even today, we are encouraged to come to Jesus, and Jesus’ servants, to receive healing. Jesus has the authority and the capacity to heal any brokenness. We may not be immediately aware of Jesus’ healing in our lives. For that healing may not come just as we expect it. But when we look back upon a time of brokenness, we can often see how divine intervention helped us to learn and grow, to move on and live, to once again know joy and fulfillment.
And every disciple of Christ is then called to be an instrument of healing for others in the name of Christ. We are all ministers. And healing is one of the identified spiritual gifts we are called to utilize for the common good.
In his classic, transformational book, “The Wounded Healer,” Henry Nouwen reminds us that we don’t need to wait until all of our wounds are completely healed before we can use what we have experienced to help others. We don’t need to wait to get the doctor’s release before we start showing compassion for other broken souls. Christ calls us to care for, and be instruments of healing for others while our wounds are in various stages of healing, and while our scars are still visible. We are all fellow travelers along the journey toward wholeness. Don’t wait to allow God to use you to bring healing to another.
There is no denying that attending to another with similar wounds may re-open some of our own. When that happens, we have the opportunity to heal more deeply. God uses us in and through our woundedness and weakness, just as the scripture reminds us.
We cannot begin to know all that is going on in the life of anyone around us. Some days, it is challenging to be aware of most of what is affecting our own lives, let alone those of another. But we do know that we are all “standing in the need of prayer,” as the old spiritual put it. We all have places of brokenness, confusion, loss, pain, suffering, lost-ness, disappointment, discouragement, and despair. Yet we know that God desires for us to live in peace.
I do not think it would be appropriate to worship today without providing a conduit for Christ’s healing to touch those seeking restoration. After we sing the “Cares Chorus,” we will expand our worship into a healing service, in which each one will have options for participation. Let’s all consider the brokenness for which we need or seek divine healing today. Think of the divine protection Jesus desires to give to you. Jesus knows what a broken human looks like on the inside, and desires to restore each of us and all of us to our created beauty.