The Sunday Sermon: Healing and Departing

Saint Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
V Epiphany B (RCL)
February 5, 2012
Scott Richardson +

Gracious God,
Let these words be more than words and give us the spirit of Jesus.

Healing is the theme that ties our readings together this morning. Isaiah refers to the reviving spirit of God – those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary, walk and not faint. The psalmist delights in praising the Lord who rebuilds, gathers, heals, binds, covers, lifts, and provides. And Jesus, at the outset of Mark’s gospel, establishes his healing ministry in the home of Simon and Andrew. After healing Simon’s mother-in-law he is besieged by those with similar need. He offers his gifts well into the evening and then goes off by himself to pray prior to departing.

That last bit – his departure – is noteworthy. I read recently that the average life expectancy in the Roman Empire was twenty-eight years. Imagine a world where healing happened, if at all, through herbal cures, crude surgical and dental procedures, and magic. Faith healing was commonly practiced. If someone gained a successful reputation in the field they capitalized on that by setting up shop and charging a fee for their ministrations. But Jesus doesn’t have any interest in that – just as his reputation for healing begins to grow he moves on. He’s clear that his primary task is to proclaim the message. The healings are helpful in that they attest to the veracity of the message. He continues to heal as he moves from town to town – he doesn’t withhold that gift from those in need – but he will not allow himself to be typecast.

So what is this message that trumps all else, even that which people need as urgently as healing? The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel. Those are the first words Jesus utters after emerging from the waters of the Jordan and the testing in the desert. They form the heart of his proclamation. The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.

So how do we hear those words today? More broadly, how do we understand the healing ministry of God? Are these lessons, taken together, an accurate description of the God we are here to worship today? Do we trust that if we wait upon the Lord we will be revived, renewed, and strengthened? Do we delight in praising the Lord who rebuilds and lifts up and protects? I’m being quite literal now – is that the God we bow before this morning? Do we believe that Jesus has the power to heal and that he does so freely, without expectation, except that he hopes to recruit us into the Kingdom?

I said just a second ago that in posing these questions I’m being literal – now let me be specific. If you are unemployed or underemployed, do you trust that God will still prosper you? If you’re ill, do you look to God to heal you? If you are terminally ill, do you believe that God will save you? If you feel threatened, do you expect God to cover and protect you? If you’re flagging or grief-stricken, do you turn to God to revive you? If you’re wandering aimlessly through life, do you want God in Christ to give direction, purpose, and meaning?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the questions just posed then the Kingdom of God is near at hand. Turn and believe the good news. And here is that good news: God entered into the world’s worst situation (betrayal, torture, execution) and turned that in a way that is universally redemptive. He is with us and for us. But remember, God will fulfill every promise and sometimes that will happen through other human beings and in mundane fashion; if you’re not paying attention you might miss it. Frederich Buechner spoke about his dithering and love-sick efforts to help his anorexic daughter; she got well after she moved across the country to go to college and, when too sick to carry on, social workers and judges and doctors intervened. Buechner saw that saving hand of God in their ministrations as clearly as we see the healing hand of Jesus in today’s gospel.

And it’s also likely that you’ll have a part to play in your own resurrection. I have a friend who’s a strong member of AA; he likes to say that he believes in a power greater than himself but that power isn’t going to zap him into sobriety. (He’s actually more descriptive than that but this is church, I have to edit.) The point is, he has to do his part – steps, meetings, sponsor – the whole drill. But if he does his part he’s confident that God will bless him and keep him and that he will be the man God intends him to be. And he is that man – by the power of God and by his cooperation with that power.

So that’s the promise – that’s the template that applies to all. And that’s why we’re here today. We believe in a God strong to save. We throw all our concerns onto that God. We are willing to accept help from others. We will do our part. And we stand in awe before the One who made the heavens and the earth and, with precious intent, you and me.

And then, of course, we also turn and offer God’s healing gifts to others. If someone is suffering starvation, their healing will be found in the food we share. If someone is suffering exposure, their “medicine” is the room and clothing we provide. The healing that Jesus offered pointed toward the Kingdom; may our personal healing strengthen us to build that Kingdom one gracious act at a time, and, as ever, in his most holy Name. Amen.

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