Sunday, February 13, 2000

The Power to Heal

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Mark 1:40-45

Introduction: Finding What Condition our Condition is in.

Too often we live in a kind of gray limbo, a condition, toplunder early feminist rhetoric, that has no real name. We hurry through ourdays conditioned to be insensitive to the life of the spirit, the mind, theheart. We move through our weeks conditioned to a one dimensional, flat habit ofbeing. We remain naturally conditioned to a condition that is not our right wayof being.

Then, it may be, we fall ill. Or one of our loved ones, ourbest friends, our family falls ill. Or someone rejects us. Or we are forced tochange. Now we are alert again, on the qui vive, angry or sad orperplexed. We may find ourselves again on a search, on the hunt, looking andwatching. We may come or come back to church.

"If Adam had not fallen, Christ had not died." (Sosaid John Wesley, of whom Samuel Johnson remarked, "He never has time forlengthy discussion, but is ever heading off to visit one poor widow oranother".)

The great gray temptress can becloud us for the better partof a lifetime, until we are brought up short.

Calderon de la Barca, Shakespeare’s Spanish contemporary,put it thus:

Que es la vida?

Un frenesi.

Que es la vida?

Una ilusion, una sombra, una ficcion.

Y el major bien es pequeno

Porque toda la vida es sueno

Y los suenos, suenos son.

What is life?

A clouded fantasy

What is life?

An illusion, a shadow, a fiction

And the greatest good is a small thing

For all of life is a dream

And dreams are only dreams.

At Christmas we viewed The Green Mile. I went asWesley said of his trip of May 23, 1738 to Aldersgate street, "veryunwillingly", sensing that this was not my kind of film. Yet, this oddpostmodernity had something to say. It is a fiction about powerful healing, thecrucial role of touch, and the personal cleansing brought out of the wounded,peripheral, dark figures in life. For these few moments along the road, such atowering Figure has bestrided us, as the Scripture says in five measures, fivebeats, five verses…

Healing the Leper

Mark 1: 40: Alert again to our shared condition, a lepertoday comes to see Jesus. There is a general sense to this leprous malady thatencompasses many ills, small and great. We can find ourselves here. I mean ouranxious brooding, our physical pain, our confused minds, our sense ofdistresses. One reading has us kneel, too, as well as beg or call out or cry.And we raise a sharp, even critical, challenge, "If you so desire, if youwant, you can heal…" Today, in the reading and hearing of the Word, weare right before the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no intermediary, no detail tocomplicate or confuse. We call out to Him.

Mark 1: 41: Now, with sudden and great power, good newsis what we hear, as we take the leper’s role. There is a response, and theresponse is affirmative. How often with the best of people we have waited, inhospital or in prayer, awaiting a report. How often we have watched the mail fora response. When the psalmist sings of weeping that lingers for the night, wefeel a resonance. How much more shall this morning’s good news resonate. Jesusstretches toward the leper. Jesus touches the leper. Jesus says, "I sodesire". This one great Greek verb, THELO, gathers up the grace of Godwhich bears a power to heal. It means much more than the single rendering,"I choose". It means I want your healing, I desire your healing, Idelight in your healing, I crave your healing, I hunger for your healing, I longfor your healing, I am made happy, joyful by your healing.

Mark 1: 42: Today we worship from the inside of a miracle.Call it the miracle of the power to heal, or the miraculous healing of a leper,or the miracle of every single day, or the miracle of life. It is immediate.This spoken and miraculous power surrounds us, and all lepers. By this power toheal, we are made clean.

Now there is, let us be frank, a darker side, painful toadmit, about this miraculous bubble in which we worship. Searing, it is, toadmit. A close cousin is electrocuted. A child is run over. A friend succumbs toillness. A mentor dies in a hunting accident. A best friend’s first child isstillborn. A nephew is developmentally delayed. Why are some healed and notothers? This too is part of the strange mystery, the occult miracle of life.

Nevertheless, in this hour we kneel before the outstretchedarm of One who delights in healing. Today’s is a Mayo Brothers Christ,fervently alive to heal. One physician said, "I have learned how importanttouch is to healing." Let what we cannot understand, give way for the timebeing, to the faith of Jesus Christ, by which we may withstand all ill, andstand with all ill.

Mark 1: 43-44: Now Jesus, for a reason unknown, sternly warnsthose who are healed not to speak of this at all. I cannot just this morningunravel a mystery that has puzzled people for hundreds of years. Perhaps fromthe time of the leper’s cleansing. Why does Jesus keep his identity secret? Todirect all to such a personal encounter, rather than a reported religion? Toavoid the scrutiny and criticism of this world? To teach a kind of loyalty tothe blessed and beloved? We cannot say.

Mark 1: 45: What is certain is what we feel when we are madewell. What is certain is what this one leper did when he was healed. What iscertain, for the human being, is what is done as related in this passage. Thosewho are healed shout and sing! Something happened and now I know, He touchedme and made me whole!

Somehow, in a sermon, in every sermon, this same encounterbetween Healer and Leper occurs. The opportunity appears, again on Sunday, ComeSunday, for real healing. There is a quickening to life that only God can give,though, as St. Augustine said, "He that made us without ourselves will notsave us without ourselves." What would happen to Rochester if today, in thehearing of this Word, all the leprosy in your life were cleansed? If you had asense of the brevity of life…If you could see with compunction hurts inflicted…Ifyou could reach out for the high prize of the upward call…If a depth of graceand faith and love came upon you…If the love of God became the work of good…Ifthe motion of this verse, "Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him…andimmediately the leprosy left him…and he went out and began to spread the word…"

A Personal Touch

How lightly we are tempted to treat the power to heal thatlies latent in a personal touch. The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset wrotethat one day, sitting in the Madrid zoo, he realized that life was worth livingeven if he didn’t become one of the 20 most famous people in history. Healing,too, is discrete, quiet, personal.

After a summer service some years ago, I remember speakingwith a woman who was still wrapped in the shroud of her husband’s recentdeath. It can take months, years, or longer to heal finally from grief.Something in this service, a verse of scripture, a word in prayer, had gatheredher again down deep into her own aching hurt. But I was struck, as we combedthrough her sense of loss, by one of her memories. "He was ‘just’ alawyer. He practiced within miles of the home in which he was born. He knew hispeople and they knew him. He helped sell farms more laden with memory andmeaning than with earning power. He helped people plan who had more need thanresource. He wrote wills and watched the willpower of others in conflict. He hada personal touch. But he never was made a judge, and he always, I think, downdeep, regretted it. He so seldom spoke about his own hopes, but I know he wasdisappointed. Why? What he did, house by house and estate by estate, that iswhat matters!"

If you choose, you have the power to heal.

I have watched one of my very closest friends practicemedicine for the last 15, now approaching 20 years. He is "just" adoctor. He has sailed the bark of his personal practice into all manner of highseas and great winds: insurance changes, HMO’s, changing populations, the needto band together with 30 other doctors to stay solvent. I watch him age andgracefully care for the sick. And still shots over the years stand out, all ofthem extremely personal: his grief over the death of a neighbor; the day hedrove away so busy and harried that he forgot his medical bag was still on thecar roof; a visit to one of my staff who had no insurance, but whom hepersonally attended; his face and voice as my arm was set. He does not run ahospital and he does not become quickly rich and he does not now, even, presideover the practice which he created and of which he is clearly the heart andsoul. He heals. He has a personal touch.

If you choose, you have the power to heal.

And I think of our churches, too. For so long, our attentionand our honors and our empowerment, as a denomination, have gone to people whohave made their way in ministry at some distance from the actual life of realchurches. So that you can go to a meeting or two and hear someone mentioned as"just a pastor". She just preaches and prays, just visits andcounsels, just funds and finds, just …heals. She has a personal touch. Wheredid we ever get the idea that there was something in ministry more important ormore powerful?

If you choose, you have the power to heal.

When we came up from New York to Ithaca, our first child wason the way, and our second arrived pretty soon thereafter. Now Ithaca in themid-70’s was a fairly active, professional place, a town with enoughcommittees so that everybody could be the chair of at least one. Jan would gofrom setting to setting, and people would ask, "And what do you do?""Just a mom," she would say. Just a mom. Now it is twenty years later,and I wake up in a quieter home. Yet all these years, waking up, the first 17words spoken and heard in our home, day by day, were the same… "mom, mom,mom…" There is a personal touch that heals.

If you choose, you have the power to heal.

Are you alive to the power to heal? Healing comes through apersonal touch.

Every one of us has been given a powerful cleansing, apowerful healing. One day we recognize what we have been given, and turn to runpast the temple and past the priest and to spread the word freely.

Concluding Suggestion

God has not come in Jesus Christ to holler advice at us froma height or distance, so neither should we treat one another so. Like the leperof old, we hear Gospel best when already we are moving toward the GreatPhysician, and come with knee bent and ear trained and skin crawling.Unsolicited advice and uninvited suggestions are not our stock in trade. Still,this announcement of healing power in personal touch does carry naturally enougha minor postscript: you have a person to touch this week, and in that touch ishealing power.

Has a social issue caught your imagination, and would youhonestly like to have some influence. Think about one person to whom you canspeak this week.

Has Christ, today, ignited your desire to share the goodnews, as the leper did? Think about one person to whom you can speak this week.

Do you know from your own experience what it feels like to besick, a leper. The isolation, the exclusion, the fear, the guilt, the ennui ofthe untouchable? Think about one person to whom you can speak this week.

Has God given you a passion for ministry? I believe God givesevery one of us such a passion. What is yours? Think about one person to whomyou can speak this week.

There is a real truth, as we acclaimed last Sunday, by Grace,to the adage, "Don’t just do something, stand there."

But there is also a real power to heal in a personal touch,by Love, in the adage, "Don’t just stand there, do something."

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