Sermon 1.22.23

Scripture Lesson: Matthew 4:12-23

Sermon: The Path of Healing

Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

The legacy of the ministry of Jesus is a legacy of healing. We are told that Jesus was remembered for healing all kinds of diseases and sicknesses among the people. Healing of bodies. Relationships. Societal divisions. Healing of greed and selfishness and violence. It is even a legacy of the healing of the anxiety connected with the fear of death. Whatever ails us, and there are many things that DO ail us, the gospel offers good news of healing, restoration, and transformation. That does not always mean that our physical bodies are going to be made well when we are sick or injured, but it means that we can be made whole again in a new way.

The gospel is a powerful message of love that is healing. It is a healing tonic for the gashes and wounds of sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. It is a message of healing from our addictions to money and wealth and status. It is a word of healing for our cavalier destruction of the planet, our home. It is a cure for the cancers of racism, ethnocentrism, and xenophobia.

The gospel offers healing for all kinds of diseases and sicknesses: the harm we do to ourselves, the harm we do to others, the abusive systems we create, the skewed values that lead us to obsess over our bodies and our looks, the words that harm and degrade, the love we deny ourselves. It is a source of healing for our dependency on violence and our obsession with guns and weapons.

While life may dull our awareness of the beauty around us, the beauty within us, and the beauty in others, the gospel restores that sensitivity. While we may lose sight of the sacredness of each and every moment and everything that is the gospel reawakens that part of our deepest humanity. The gospel is healing balm for all of this and more through love, community, grace, and forgiveness.

The gospel is a life-giving, life-saving tonic. It is a message of joy and love and abundance and solidarity. It’s a message about the glorious world around us and within us and among us. And it is powerful! Radical! And extreme!

So here is the gospel of Jesus offering people life, full and free, offering healing and wholeness, and given where we are, yes, it is a radical departure from life as we know it. That was so in the first century – they killed Jesus, after all – and it is still so today.

The gospel is a powerful alternative to many of the harmful systems and arrangements and behaviors and values and attitudes that we have concocted for ourselves as we try to live together on this precious planet. Our ways seem to so often lead to death, destruction, and harm. And the gospel offers us flourishing life and well-being as individuals, as societies, and as a planet. Health for mind, body, and spirit. Through healthcare delivery systems and food systems. Health through forgiveness, grace, and love. Health through the arts and relationships. Health through prayer, meditation, and, yes, even religion. The way of Jesus, the gospel, is a powerful path of healing and wholeness.

The gospel is not only a message but a promise of new life. A life of peace and well-being for all, including other than human species on this planet. Jesus demonstrates, embodies, and expresses that another world IS actually possible. Here and now. And Jesus wants to give it to us. To show us the way. To take us there. He is begging us to receive the new life of the gospel. He is laying it at our doorstep. He is so intent on making sure that we understand the power and the value and the importance of the gospel that he lays down his actual physical life to make sure we get it. He will stop at nothing. Literally. To give us this new life. To heal us. To make us whole.

This morning we heard one of the most compelling stories from the ministry of Jesus. Jesus is walking along the lakeshore. And those capable, responsible, upstanding, devout, community-minded, family-supporting fishers, drop their nets to follow Jesus. It is easy to get sidetracked about that. How could they leave their families? Who would take care of them? Wasn’t that disrespectful to the parents? What about honor your father and mother? Isn’t that selfish and irresponsible? But that is not the point of the story. We are told that they dropped their nets and followed Jesus not so that we learn something about the fishers but so that we learn something about the gospel. It is so powerful, so compelling. It takes you over. The pull, the lure, the experience, is so beautiful. You can’t resist it. Because it is all the life and love you could ever have dreamed of. It is what you were made for. It is why you are here. And it is powerful beyond our wildest imaginings!

That is why we are told: “They immediately abandoned their nets and began to follow Jesus.” And, “immediately they abandoned both boat and father to follow him.”

We see recognition of this power of the gospel in a reflection from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard:

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. ”

So, let’s turn to the church for a moment, the community entrusted with the gospel, to preach the gospel, to spread the gospel, to embody the gospel.

Yes, the gospel is healing and powerful, and it is radical and extreme. Love your neighbor. That is a stretch. Love your enemy. That’s beyond. Some days it’s about all you can do to love your family. Sell all you have and give to the poor. Ok, that is extreme. Dismantle social constructs that bind and limit people. Well, there are reasons for these things. Forgive 70 times 7. What about consequences? Dealing with the fall out? I mean the outrageous teachings of Jesus go on and on. And on. And on. The gospel is an invitation to a life of radical generosity and egalitarianism, of unconditional love. It’s a drastic departure from business as usual as we currently know it.

Some of you may follow extreme sports. It is incredible what people set themselves about doing with their bodies! I can never forget the movie, “Free Solo,” about the man who climbed alone and unassisted up the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. People are doing incredible, extreme, risky things all the time! It is truly amazing!

But, the church, I hope in the interests of bringing the healing power of the gospel to more people, may try to make the gospel more reasonable. More palatable. More convenient. Maybe the church tries to make the gospel comport more with current social and economic realities so that people can make their way to its healing power. So they won’t be turned off or scared away by the extremism.

But what happens? The drastic, radical, life-giving gospel of love gets watered down. Diluted. Weakened. Clouded.

The church may be well-intentioned. We aren’t trying to do harm; we actually want to do good, we believe. But by trying to make the gospel more accessible, maybe we undercut its power. Maybe the message of life-giving love is presented in a weakened manner. And the powerful healing promises of the gospel are diminished or lost in the message proffered by the church. The radical, extreme expression of love that cures prejudice, hatred, and greed, maybe becomes, ‘Have a nice day.’ So, we may, with good intentions, undercut the very message we are here to promote.

There is a fable about “a miser who sold all of his possessions and bought a large piece of gold. He buried the treasure in the earth near a large wooden fence. Each day he dug up the gold and admired it.

“A gardener observed the miser’s daily ritual and wondered what the old man was doing. One night he crept to the exact spot where he had seen the miser and discovered the magnificent gold piece. He immediately placed it in his pocket and left the country.

“When the miser discovered the empty hole the next day he let out a loud cry of anguish. A neighbor heard the scream and came running to the aid of her friend. Full of grief, the miser told her the entire story.

“‘Stop your crying,’ the neighbor advised, ‘and find a stone of equal size. Paint it the color of gold and put it back in the earth. Each day you can come and pretend that it is still here. The stone will serve the same purpose since you never meant to use the gold anyway.’” [From Stories for Telling: A Treasury for Christian Storytellers, William R. White, pp. 102-103.]

As I listen to this story, I think that the church may sometimes treat the gospel like the piece of gold. Buried. Hidden away – in the Bible? Admired. But with no real intention of using it. So, it might as well be a stone. And then is it really so bad if a lot of churches are closing? Were they really purveying the gospel, the radical, extreme, healing good news? With all the powerful transformation and love it has to offer? And what about our church? We will affirm the leadership of our advisors for 2023 this morning. What are we really expecting of them? Something shatteringly powerful and life-giving? Something watered down? Something pretty to be admired? Something to make us feel good? Or be good?

I hope that here at Lakewood, there is a glimmer of the real gospel; a glimpse at least. An ember. A fleeting wisp. Even a soft whisper. I hope we can feel a faint flutter. A reverberation. A hint. Of something healing. True. Transcendent. And powerful. That will be enough.

Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

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