Sunday, October 9, 2016

"Keep on Healing All" - Sermon for October 9, 2016

Community UMC, Quincy

“Keep On…Keep on Healing All”

Pastor Andrew Davis

October 9, 2016

Luke 17: 11-19


        I love a good medical drama on TV!!  There’s something about the intensity of it, the subplots, and all the intriguing storylines that move us to tears or leave us on the edge of our seats.  When some of my friends would watch Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix in the lounge while living on campus at Wesley, it was so easy to get hooked in.  Or I would find myself equally captivated when ER was still running on NBC, being glued to the show each week to see what was next.  I have also been rather intrigued by the NBC show, Chicago Med, which I first thought might be the second coming of ER.  Nevertheless, even though the action on these TV shows is fiction, it portrays stories and plots of both healing and sorrow that take place in the ER and hospital, which happens in real life too, but without all the soapy subplots.  Away from TV, we are fortunate to have healers in our world through our doctors, nurses, physical therapists, emergency medical technicians, holistic healers, counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, and anyone who is a healing presence or works in a healing profession. 

        So naturally, as we encounter the text this morning, we come across healing.  As we continue our journey in keeping on, we will be thinking of what it means to keep on healing all, as we come across a section of our Gospel from Luke in which Jesus is not addressing anyone in particular.  Instead, we have a little transition in our story in which Jesus is continuing his journey to Jerusalem which began back in Luke 9:51 when Jesus “turned his face towards Jerusalem.” Even amidst not addressing anyone in particular, Jesus is once again showing us how he breaches boundaries as he crosses somewhere between Samaria and Galilee and encounters ten lepers, Samaritan lepers too.  Nevertheless, Jesus does not reject the lepers, even though the lepers keep their distance from Jesus.  Like the Samaritans in Jesus’s time, lepers were oftentimes shunned in society.  And partially because there was a great fear about their disease, leprosy.

        Now if you’re wondering what exactly leprosy is, according to WebMD, leprosy is “an infectious disease that causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms and legs.” It could be a little disconcerting to those in Jesus’s time and earlier such as what we heard in 2 Kings, as there was not the understanding and treatment for leprosy available at the time as we have today.  But that does not deter Jesus, nevertheless.  On the the other hand, unlike other accounts of healing that Jesus does in the four Gospels, Jesus surprisingly does not do the healing by himself in this passage from Luke, but instead tells the lepers to “go and show yourselves to the priests” in which they were healed upon their visit to the priests, much in the same way that Naaman was healed from his leprosy in our reading from 2 Kings (Lk. 17: 14, NRSV).  However, Jesus doesn’t flinch or turn these ten lepers away when they call out to him.  He still heals them all, even when it means crossing boundaries and comfort zones. 

        The fact that Jesus was willing to heal everyone he came across says a lot about how Jesus was willing to transcend differences and boundaries, particularly with the Samaritans and the Lepers.  But the fact that Jesus also healed without thanks by the other nine lepers in this morning’s lesson shows us about the need to keep on healing all, whether or not they give thanks.  It’s like last week’s message of obeying and just doing it.  Even though only one of the lepers healed comes back to thank Jesus, Jesus tells this Samaritan that “your faith has made you well” in the same way he has done in other passages in the Gospels that pertain to healing, particularly in Mark and Matthew.  On the other hand, we may want to be quick to condemn the other nine who were healed, yet did not return to Jesus to say thanks. However, “the story is not about moralism,” but is instead “about ritual and boundaries and spiritual realities. And it’s about the underlying call of Jesus to all disciples to keep on healing all people—including people who are deemed beyond the bounds by cultural or religious assumptions or leaders.”[i]

Jesus sees beyond people's scars, their baggage, and flaws.  Instead, he sees people for who they are and acts with compassion. I don’t think once, Jesus has ever uttered the words, “sorry, can’t help you there.” Even though Jesus did not heal the lepers by himself, he still saw them as fellow human beings and had mercy on them, sending them to the priests at an undisclosed temple because only priests were able to make the lepers clean and Jesus was not a priest in this case.[ii]  This story is more so “about Jesus doing everything he could to bring the fullest possible healing to people who were as outcast as they could be relative to his culture.”[iii] Jesus broke down the wall there and that’s what made him so unpopular among many of the Romans and the Pharisees.  Jesus was willing to see people for who they are while not getting into legalism or moralism.  But again, it’s all about healing and the need to keep on healing all people we encounter who need it. 

Even today, healing takes on many dimensions and at times, can be a sensitive topic because no two people heal the same.  When we are injured, when we are sick, or even if we have experienced trauma, hurt feelings, rifts, grief over a death or loss, or conflict, we want healing to take place and take place quickly partially because we don’t like slogging through the mud.  But also because once again, our dominant culture tends to favor pulling ourselves together, picking ourselves back up, and quickly moving on, not always encouraging us to take the proper time to fully heal and become whole again.  It can take time to fully heal and become whole again, sometimes longer than we want. In his book From Hurt to Healing: A Theology of the Wounded, Andrew Sung Park explains that “healing is an ongoing process, transpiring gradually under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Prayer is a vital instrument in healing…”[iv] And in our work in visitations and pastoral care as being a healing presence, “healing takes place in relating to God and others, for it is relational in nature.  Being made whole is the natural consequence of deepening our spiritual fellowship with the God of wholeness.”[v] We need to be willing to relate and be willing to be with those who are hurting by simply being a presence.  It’s a way we keep on healing all. 

However, if healing isn't happening quickly, allow the time and don't let anyone say otherwise, or even suggest that it's a lack of faith or that it's because praying isn't enough. It's along the lines of John Wesley's rule of doing no harm, as one of the dangers of saying things like that is that it can cause harm, stress, and a spiritual crisis.  Thankfully, Jesus reminded us last in last week's lesson that miniscule, or mustard seed faith is still sufficient. And any prayer is sufficient, as God knows what is on our hearts. However, the good news is that when we are hurting or going through pain like the lepers were or when any of us experience pain and hurt, we can come to Jesus and ask for his mercy upon us and Jesus will see us and Jesus will acknowledge us. 

At the same time, we also want to be very careful about the distinction between healing and curing, as there is healing when the lepers were deemed clean, although it did not specify whether they were cured or not,. It's just that they were certified by the priest that they were clean to participate in rituals - given there was a high value on ritual purity at the time.  In James Miller and Susan Cutshall’s book, The Art of Being a Healing Presence, healing is defined as the “idea of wholeness, and specifically any movement toward that wholeness.  It refers to something that is already present and available in some form, something that is being drawn to become more complete in itself.  It suggests a return to a state of original soundness.”[vi] However, Miller and Cutshall say that “healing is not the same as curing.  It does not mean to apply a remedy that eliminates a person’s disease or distress.  Nor does healing involve fixing what may seem to be wrong in others’ lives.”[vii]

That's a lot to think about right there and although healing and curing might be slightly different, each of us has the ability to be a healing presence among those who are hurting in our church, community, and world, but it doesn't mean we will cure or eliminate disease, or distress.  But we do help in the healing process nonetheless. As a pastor, one of my roles is to visit and offer myself as a healing presence and listening ear whenever being called upon, whenever someone stops by when I'm here, or if I see a need that someone may have.  But we also have others here who may be healers in our church and community, simply by their presence.  We do have a group of lay people who do visitations who are able to be a listening and healing presence with the various people they visit.  But each of us in this congregation can also be a healing presence in helping people back to a sense of wholeness by being present with each other, being a listening ear, being compassionate, but also being willing to hear the stories of hurt and pain, whether it is physical or mental pain and hurt. 

  As people of faith and 21st century disciples of Jesus, we need to be willing to simply see people as fellow human beings by fully embracing them, hurts, baggage, and the whole nine yards.  Maybe it’s a call for us to help restore people into a place in society, back into the community as well.  Kind of reminds me of another healing story that was in the Lectionary back in June from Luke 8:26-39 where Jesus drives the demons out of the Gerasene man and restores him back to society, as this is the same thing that Jesus does when he heals the lepers, by helping restore them to a place of wholeness and back to the community, another aspect of healing all.  Debbie Thomas writes in an article in The Christian Century that,

when Jesus heals [the lepers of] their leprosy he does not merely cure their bodies; he restores their identities. He enables their return to all that makes us fully human—family, community, society, intimacy. In healing their withered skin and numbed limbs, he releases them to feel again—to embrace and be embraced, to worship in community, to reclaim all the social and spiritual ties their disease stole from them. Jesus enters a no-man’s-land—a land of no belonging—and hands out ten unblemished passports. He invites ten exiles home.[viii]


        And so when we are a healing presence, helping to restore and help guide people towards wholeness and restoring them back into the community, we are also participating in ways to help heal the world too.  It’s one small step, but one big impact when we think about what it means to keep on healing all.  Like Jesus, we need to have mercy, have compassion, and be willing to embrace and be present to all.  It’s one of the first steps towards healing all, but also keep in mind that all means all, regardless of condition, hurt, or baggage.  Jesus sets the example for us here in his willingness to heal all, even when it is done without thanks.  And so we obey Jesus and we just do it, and we keep on striving to heal all who are in our midst, providing a beacon of hope, comfort, and peace as we continue our practice of being the hands and feet of Christ in the world.  As we go into this new week, who is hurting and needs us to be a healing presence for them?  And what are you going to do to be a healing presence in this world this week?

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 

[i] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 2016. Accessed October 7, 2016.
[ii] Ibid. 
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Andrew Sung Park, From Hurt to Healing: A Theology of the Wounded (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004), 131.
[v] Ibid., 132. 
[vi] James E. Miller and Susan C. Cahill, The Art of Being a Healing Presence: A Guide for those in Caring Relationship (Fort Wayne, IN: Willowgreen Publishing, 2001), 20. 
[vii] Ibid., 19. 
[viii] Thomas, Debie. ‘Lectionary Column for October 9, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time | the Christian Century’. September 20, 2016. Accessed October 7, 2016.

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