SERMON 2/5/12 Epiphany 5B
When I became ill as a kid, my sister, brother, and I went to a country doctor, who when we really got sick, sometimes came to the house to care for us. I remember once when I was about six or seven years old, I got the flu bug so bad, I could barely lift my head off the pillow. My Dad knew how sick I was that day and so he said to me, “It looks like I’m going to have to call Ole Doc Brown.” . I knew what that meant. Although I would soon be on the road to recovery, it also meant that I would soon be on the receiving end of a pinicillin shot. Now if you have ever had this injection before, you know how painful it can be, and you also know in what part of the anatomy it was usually given. I remember being unable to sit for days after that visit from Ole Doc Brown. Sometimes when it comes to our health, we have to become a bit vulnerable in order to have it restored. Sometimes healing comes to us not only in the form of physical restoration, but it can occur in spiritual renewal and rebirth at the same time.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus not only witnessed, but also experienced the irony of the human condition. Scripture records many times when Jesus met people who were suffering from all types of disorders and ailments. “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them” (Mark 1:31). From blindness, to withered hands, to lame feet, to profuse bleeding, to even a fever like the one which Peter’s mother-in-law suffered, Jesus’ ministry was one of recognizing and naming illness, and with divine power, he restored people to health. Jesus’ miraculous work did not merely result in a return to strength and vigor in the physical situation of his followers, but through this work, the spiritual health of the individual was restored as well.
Spiritual and Physical well-being are intimately connected. Science has found that when people suffer from spiritual, emotional, or mental maladies, they may also experience real physical pain and in many cases real bodily weaknesses as a result. I know for me, that if I do not get enough rest, if I do not spend time with my family, or if I do not make time for recreation, my physical health will and does suffer. When I am out spiritual balance, my resistance gets low, my immune system weakens, and before long, I will contract something like a sinus infection or some other illness. I am sure we all have experienced situations like this. When we are spiritually whole, our physical health usually is in a condition of wholeness as well. On the other hand, I know when my prayer life falters, when I fall out of my practice of scripture study, or when I stop saying the daily office, then I am spiritually in a dark place, and it will not be long before my physical health will suffer. We are both spiritual and physical indivisible and as such, our wholeness is interconnected in both areas of our being.
One of the blind men whom Jesus healed not only carried the burden of the inability to see, he also carried the burden of being an outcast in the community because of his disease. His inability to contribute to the community, to work, or to earn his own way, caused him to have to depend on the help of others. When Jesus healed the blind man and restored his sight, he was also restoring his just place within society and thus, he set him free from the spiritual disease of estrangement. Jesus healed folks physically, and there were more subtle times when Jesus healed the spirit, as well.
Peter was the disciple who called Jesus the Son of God, the same disciple who drew the sword and excised the ear of one of the soldiers who came to carry the Lord away for trial (Jesus healed the soldier too by the way). Peter was the same one who denied Jesus not once, but three times in the courtyard of the High Priest. Peter needed a little spiritual healing do not you think. Peter had a terrible habit of being a little too quick to respond to his emotions. Peter came off as a bold, confident, and “get r done” kind of guy, but when push came to shove, Peter’s real spiritual issue was his ego-based, self-reliance, that came through with vigor in the moment. Peter was the same follower who when the going got tough, his persona of strength hid behind a fragile faith and many times he found himself floundering in deep water. Healing eventually came to Peter, but it required him to let go of that ego thing with which he wrestled.
“Peter, do you love me,” Jesus asked him post resurrection. Peter replied in the affirmative. Teaching him to caution his certainty, Jesus asked him twice more, and again with a little ego busting reluctance, Peter responded in the affirmative each time. Then came the spiritual healing Peter needed when Jesus’ offered some loving chastisement, “ Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18 NIV) Peter the confident and self-reliant leader disciple would soon abandon his “pull me up from my own boot straps” mentality and really begin to trust God. This conversation beach side with Jesus was the healing Peter needed, which was a cleansing of the spirit and a re-focus on trusting God. Healing, real healing is all a matter of trust, of accepting who we are as interconnected creatures that must depend on each other and on God.
When physical illness comes upon us, most of us go to the doctor. When we do that, we act with trust that our physician is skilled enough, smart enough, and well versed enough with our ailment to prescribe the right treatment. When we enter the physician’s office, we have to be willing to hand over to the doctor, some control over our own well-being. When we are sick, we have to let go of our confident self-reliance and become vulnerable. Physical restoration is a matter of trusting the healer to heal us.
We all have some form of spiritual frailty as well, and to deny this fact is to deny our own humanity. Like the trust required of our doctors for our physical healing, we must have an even greater need to trust in God who is the trusted healer of our spiritual selves. There was an audacious little boy who one day decided to climb a ladder that had been leaning against his house for a few days. Suddenly, he found himself standing on the high roof looking over very high ledge. He was frightened, uncertain, and for a brief time, a little unwilling to accept the danger of his predicament. It was not long before his fear overcame him and he was frozen into inaction, unable to move forward. Finally, his father saw what was going on, walked over to the wall, stood at the edge with outstretched arms and said, “Jump son, I’ll catch you.” With a little reluctance, the boy finally let go of his fear, he let go of his despair and with great trust, and he open his arms wide, leaped off the ledge and into the waiting arms of his Dad. Safe at last.
When we live in hope, when we release that which holds us back from God’s grace, we can be whole, healthy, and joyful. When we decide that our self-reliant way of being no longer works, that it no longer fills the empty places of our lives, the frightening places, the broken places, we will be ready to take the leap of faith. Spiritual healing happens when we decide to jump into the awaiting arms of God. In this life, we cannot, with assurance know that all our days will be good, that they will be filled with confidence, happiness, and never-ending health, but what we can rely on is in the promises of God. When we put our trust in God and not ourselves, we can find a peace, joy, and grace that can overcome the force of any illness, the power of any fear, the weight of any melancholy, and the sting of even death itself. God’s promise is that God is always waiting with outstretched arms, ready to catch us; we just need to take the leap.