Scripture Lesson: Matthew 4:12-25
Sermon: Jesus Is the Cure
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
A hundred years ago or so, there may not have been a zillion channels on cable tv
or social media for entertainment but there were medicine shows. Yes, medicine
shows. These were essentially a combination circus, carnival, revival, and
infomercial. There were usually minstrels, bands, magic shows, dog and pony
shows, fire eaters, menageries, and oddities. All this was to attract crowds, who
would then be told about dubious medical products.
One of the most prominent medicine shows was the Kickapoo Indian Medical
company of Connecticut. The show was Indian themed involving up to 300
Indians who put on an extravaganza. Even Buffalo Bill Cody promoted Kickapoo
products which included Indian Oil, Buffalo Salve, and Cough Cure. Another
product peddled by Kickapoo was Sagwa. This was supposed to be a blood, liver,
and kidney renovator. It was supposedly a concoction of herbs and barks and
roots. Apparently it actually contained alcohol, stale beer, and a strong laxative
like aloe. Here’s what Buffalo Bill had to say about Kickapoo Sagwa: “Kicakapoo
Indian Sagwa is the only remedy the Indians ever use, and has been known to them
for ages. An Indian would as soon be without his horse, gun, or blanket as without
Kickapoo also sold something touted as a worm killer. This is described as a pill
that was “large and embedded with string, so that after digesting and excreting
them, people were convinced that they had indeed been cured of intestinal worms.”
[Fantasyland, p. 108. See notes at the end.]
But Kickapoo was on to something. The company was sold in the 1920’s for half a
million dollars and lived on in Al Capp’s Li’l Abner as Kickapoo Joy Juice.
While the entertainment associated with the medicine shows was real enough, the
proffered products were hardly medicinal in any scientific sense. People were
being taken advantage of and duped.
In the gospel this morning, we heard the story of the call of the disciples but I am
interested in the little comment at the end that helps to set the scene for the
following Sermon on the Mount. I am interested in the aside, “Jesus went
throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of
the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So
his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those
who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and
paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the
Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.” Matthew 4:23-25
All these crowds. People coming from every which way. And getting the help, the
cure, the response that they need. We are not told of any entertainment involved.
So we can assume that what attracted the people was the the authenticity of the
experience. People came because something happened. They were changed.
Transformed. And they told others. So more came. We are told of people coming
in droves to convey the widespread positive response to Jesus. So we are given
this little comment that is basically saying, Jesus is the real thing. There is no
entertainment. And there is no money to be made. With Jesus, there is an
authentic life-changing experience. Jesus is real. Not a fake. Not a self promoting
peddler. Not a self absorbed cult leader.
What do we learn from the image of Jesus going from town to town healing
people? One thing we see is that there seems to be no sorting out of who will and
will not be healed. Droves of people were healed, in various towns, including a
border region. We are told of no reference for healing for certain people and not
for others. There is no distinguishing people by ethnicity. There is no standardized
testing applied to who gets healed. There are no financial parameters delineating
who gets healed. AND, there is no test of faith. No belief requirement. We are
simply told of many people from the random public being healed by Jesus. Jesus
is the real thing because what he has to offer is for everyone. It is universal. And
it is unconditional. That’s how it is with Divine Love. It’s for everyone. No tests.
No requirements. Not something that can be bought or sold. It’s grace. Freely
given. To everyone.
So we see Jesus ministering to everyone. Unlike the medicine shows, no money
changes hands. There is no payment involved. There is no barter. There is no
exchange of goods or services. Jesus freely offers healing and wholeness. There is
no transaction involved. No ‘I’ll do this for you if. . .’ Or ‘If you believe this, then.
. .’ Or ‘Once you have done this, I’ll cure you.’ No conditions. No exchanges. No
transactions. Nothing extracted from the people who come.
Because in the ecology of God, in the reality of Jesus, every single person is holy.
Sacred. Of inestimable worth. Precious. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
Nothing we do can change this fundamental reality. Outward circumstances don’t
matter. Wealth doesn’t matter. Color, gender identity. They don’t matter.
External circumstances, relationships, access to power, poverty, past sins, they
don’t change a person’s fundamental worth in the Divine Economy. So with
Jesus, everyone who comes to him is a unique individual of incalculable worth. So
everyone gets the love of God; the healing and wholeness of grace.
The world may beat you down, the world may trash you, the world may consider
you expendable. The world may degrade and demean you, but with Jesus, you are
precious, holy, and sacred. And in that affirmation, that validation, there is healing
power. There is transforming power. There is care, dignity, and respect for the
self. We value ourselves. And then we value others and we extend the
unconditional, universal love that we experience in Jesus. This leads to changes in
relationships. Changes in communities. Changes in economics. Changes in our
fundamental orientation toward life. Everything changes. We no longer function
from the transactional model. We no longer view reality exclusively through the
lens of money and wealth. We experience our common bond with every other
creature of our species. And every thing is different. Reality shifts.
Maybe you have seen that image of hundreds of men of African descent marching
with signs that say, “I Am A Man.” That is the power of Jesus’ healing – it is the
affirmation of the humanity of every single person as a beloved child of God. That
is a given. It is grace. We can’t procure it and no one can take it away. Jesus affirms the worth of each and every person, regardless of the messages of the
surrounding society. On that fundamental premise, Jesus heals.
Jesus’ unconditional love and universal affirmation of every person is the cure.
With that orientation toward ourselves and toward life, we are made whole. The
crowds came to Jesus because with him they experienced healing, restoration, and
transformation. They knew their value and the value of everyone else. Life. Holy.
Sacred. No money. No transaction. Once this reality is accepted, then problems
are reframed. Attitudes are changed. Behavior is transformed. There is care and
respect for ourselves and for others. This addresses many problems in our lives
and in our world.
When we think of the many, many problems that beset our lives and our society,
we can see how the love of Jesus for each and every person, offers healing. This is
the cure to apathy and toxic individualism. It is the cure to racism and tribalism. It
is the cure to stress, smoking, addictions, obesity, and many other problems rooted
in the lack of self love and care. Jesus is the cure to environmental problems.
When we love and respect ourselves and others we want to protect the creation
which sustains all of us. Jesus is the cure to anxiety, grief, loneliness, and violence.
He is the cure to greed and love of money, power and control. Jesus is the cure to
self centered tyranny, despair, and vengeance. His other-centered, egalitarian
reality is curative.
Whatever is causing pain, harm, worry, whatever is diminishing life, relationships,
community and country, Jesus offers healing. He offers a moral compass. He
offers a new reality of complete, unconditional, universal love. No transaction
involved. Grace. It’s the cure.
But sometimes the church tries to peddle a watered down version of the Jesus cure,
a knock off. They’ll tell you Jesus died for your sins. That’s transactional. And
Jesus is not transactional. Grace can’t be bought, traded, or sold. That’s snake oil.
If the church tells you Jesus will make you financially wealthy, it’s snake oil. You
might actually get killed. That’s what happened to Jesus. If the church tells you that the life of one human being is of more value in God’s economy than the life of
another human being, that’s snake oil. If the church tells you that God has a
preference for people of a certain hue, a certain income bracket, a certain language,
a certain belief system, a certain nationality, a certain gender identity, that’s snake
oil. If the church tells you it is God’s will to take advantage of someone, mistreat
someone, abuse someone, degrade someone, it’s snake oil.
So before we take aim at the Kickapoo Indian Medicine show and other
manifestations of the same phony pseudo pharmaceutical marketing scheme, we
want to remember that the church has done its share to water down and doctor up
the Jesus gospel to suit our own ends, to serve our own purposes, and to line our
The real Jesus attracts everyone; all those who want to be made whole, who hunger
for right relationships and peace. And he does not disappoint.
To borrow from Kickapoo, we might even say that Jesus is “the purest, safest, and
most effectual cathartic medicine known to the public.” Amen.
Sources used for information about the Kickapoo Medicine Company:
Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in
this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church