June 18, 2017
Each Wednesday a group of people, mostly retired folks, but not necessarily, meets for Bible study, a cup of coffee and some really fun conversation here at Holy Trinity. This past Wednesday none of the pastors was expected to be present for the “Daytimers” meeting, so they would be on their own. They joked that they were going to have a casino party, since no pastor would be there to supervise them. Turns out I was able to attend after all and I was looking forward to a fun morning of gambling and drinking at a make shift casino table.
What I discovered instead as I arrived was one of them handing out Bibles. They were prepared to study the scriptures together. Mark said, “We’re going to help you with your sermon!” Now, unfortunately, he did not accept my invitation to preach in my place; but the group through fierce laughter, thoughtful questions and spirited insight opened the scriptures to me in a new way. In the midst of my “harassed and helpless” state, they had compassion on me and restored my sense of call and passion to go out in Jesus’ name to do the same.
In the reading today from Matthew, Jesus is speaking to the crowds who are described as harassed and helpless, lost like a sheep without a shepherd. But when Jesus is with the crowds of people who are helpless and hopeless, he has compassion on them; he heals them and restores them to abundant life.
Then Jesus summons the disciples and names each one. Jesus gives them the authority to do all that Jesus has done in his name to cast out demons, to heal the sick, to restore people to new life. The disciples have been by his side, watching him and learning from him, and now Jesus sends them out to do the same. After having been his apprentice, learning at his side, being trained for the work that lies ahead, they are now commissioned to do the work to be Jesus’ healing presence in the world.
But what has Jesus been doing? It’s summed up succinctly in this passage—healing and liberating. In the previous two chapters of Matthew, there are ten healing stories. Ten! Jesus heals a leper, the centurion’s servant, a paralyzed man, two blind men and a woman with a hemorrhage. He casts demons out of a person and throws them into the pigs. He calms a great storm. He restores life to a young dead girl. He gives voice to one who is silenced.
During the Bible study with the Day-timers, after hearing all of these wonderful healing stories named in one fell swoop, I’m the one who asked, “Why doesn’t Jesus heal like this today?” Turns out the question is better asked “How? How does Jesus, through us, bring healing today?” Yes, these faithful members who are always growing in their own faith, restored my own understanding of the one who heals, forgives and restores. Jesus has commissioned us to heal and restore in his name to the ends of the earth.
So the Day-timers challenged me to name current healing stories as if I were Matthew telling the story of Jesus, because Jesus has commissioned us all to do God’s work in his name.
Through the ELCA we are connected to healing work that is happening all over the world. Too many stories to name here, so I’ll share just one.
1. We learned at our synod assembly last weekend that Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Chicago has installed 40 solar panels in small villages in El Salvador, providing electricity where there was none. Now the children who are eager to learn are able to study into the night, and the communities have access to Wifi and the people are being restored to fullness of life.
2. This congregation, Holy Trinity, provides meals through the Crib to youth who are homeless. Many of these youth identify as LGBTQ and their parents have abandoned them after their coming out. Volunteers provide more than a meal, they feed people’s souls when they sit with them and eat together, creating dignity and hope for a brighter future.
3. Holy Trinity is providing healing and restoration of life through the work we do in Jesus’ name to welcome a refugee family from Eritrea (err-i-tree-a). People who are fleeing persecution and war come here in hopes for better future and with our financial support and accompaniment there is healing that happens over time.
4. We have a strong and active healing presence with prisoners who are separated from family and longing for fullness of life once again. Not only do we provide hundreds of books, but we also provide journals for the women prisoners at Fox Valley Adult Transition Center for Women. These women are preparing to transition home and these journals provide a safe place to name feelings, hopes and fears as they prepare to be integrated back into society.
5. Healing happens when we stand side by side with someone who is grieving, not to fix it or make it go away, but to be present in the pain, sorrow and longing.
6. Casting out demons is not an image or language that we are too familiar with here at HTLC, but any of you who have served as an AA sponsor know a thing or two about demons and healing. A companion who stands with you in times of trouble, whether it be addiction, trauma, illness, or anything else that has a grip on your life, that companion is the healing presence of Jesus—God in your midst in times of trouble.
7. And together we work toward casting out the demons of racism and white privilege. We have a long way to go. When we see the pervasive and demonic ways that people of color are persecuted and killed in our own neighborhoods and across the country, our call is not only to name that institutional and systemic racism exists, but actively work to break down the systems that oppress and demand justice for those who are murdered at the hands of people in power. Healing will happen when we all cast out the demon of complacency, and work together to end hate, racism and gun violence.
8. And I know there are several other healing experiences that are not named here, that each of you are doing in your own way. Think about how God is using your words and actions to bring healing and wholeness, through the compassion and love you receive from Jesus.
It is a big task, no doubt, to be part of the healing work of God. It will not happen in an instant or even overnight, but Jesus sends us out nonetheless, as he did those first disciples, fully equipped to do the healing work of God in the world.
You are ready. Ready because it is your baptismal call, but also ready because in this space, week after week, the scriptures are opened to us in new ways, the wine and bread are shared, peace is extended, and beautiful music and thoughtful prayers fill the air. Grace is poured out, so that we can’t help but shower the compassion of Jesus on all who are harassed and helpless.
And, one more thing… prepare yourself to receive that same compassion and love from others. Because they, too, are responding to Jesus’ call.