Epiphany 3C Healing

The Right Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori

Healing.  Who needs it?  that question can be answered in two ways – as a flip retort, like ‘healing’s for the birds,’ or with a bit more engagement – ‘we all need healing, especially in times like these.’  Yet both are true – birds and people are held in the healing palm of God, their bodies created in ways that are designed for healing.

The collect we just prayed asks that the Church be ‘enthused’ that we might all become agents of healing.  Enthuse comes from roots that mean ‘God in us.’  May we be filled with God’s Spirit, the Word and words of God, and the acts we have seen in Jesus.

God’s good news is about healing our bodies, souls, and hearts; our wanderings and wonderings; our politics and arguments (marriages, too); and ultimately, all the communities on this earth.  That good news reaches beyond human beings toward healing this groaning planet, our one and only island home.  God’s creation is imbued with healing, organized to seek greater wholeness.  Healing happens in our lifetimes – and in timescales far beyond human lives.  Healing moves toward wholeness, and holiness – those words all have the same root – and holiness comes of right relationships with God, ourselves, and all our relatives, as the Lakota say.

When an enormous space rock (Chicxulub) landed in the Caribbean 66 million years ago, it destroyed eons of creativity.  Three-quarters of earth’s plants and animals were wiped out, including most of the dinosaurs, yet their survivors eventually produced a riot of birds, and the disaster made space for the few tiny mammals to diversify, eventually producing dogs and whales and human beings.  Disasters can eventually yield new life – even planetary resurrection – for God is always bringing new life out of death and destruction.

Our own human lives have similar trajectories.  We come into being with immense promise, and as we grow, we all meet disasters both small and large:  skinned knees; fights with playmates; the death of grandparents.  What eventually brings new creation out of those disasters?  The healing powers of healthy bodies, helped by people who know how to clean and care for bloody knees; learning how to manage conflict; the hug and kiss of a loving adult.  Children learn how to help themselves and others, and healing happens.

This morning’s readings are all about healing – the healing gifts of God’s creation, and learning how to partner or cooperate with those healing gifts.  This season of Epiphany celebrates God’s healing presence in human flesh.  Jesus healed people and he worked to heal communities.  God continues to heal the brokenness in and around us, bringing new life into the world.

That’s what happening in Nehemiah.  After the destruction of the temple around 587 BCE and the exile of the nation’s leaders, Nehemiah works to heal the aftermath.  He becomes governor of Jerusalem, works to rebuild the city, and helps the nation remember or recover the Law of Moses, the Torah.  We heard today about Ezra and the Levites reading Torah aloud to the gathered crowds – in a national assembly to hear and remember where they’ve come from and where they’re meant to be going.  The people themselves call for the assembly, and after they’ve heard the law, they begin to weep over their failures.  But scribes and teachers remind everyone that this is a day of rejoicing, for everyone’s learning how to heal what’s been broken.  Their covenant with God is being renewed; they are to eat and drink and rejoice, for now they know how to foster and receive healing.

Today’s psalm echoes that glorious discovery:  God’s law, God’s justice, is perfect and true, it’s sweet and what we’re meant to desire more than anything in this world.  God’s law is the way of love.  The foundation of the law is to love God with all we are and love our neighbors as ourselves.  When we love, we heal.

Paul reminds us that the body of Christ has many members, each with different gifts, possibilities, and challenges.  None is more important than another – and each is to be loved in ways that lead that member into fullness of life.  When each member is being healed, the body begins to be whole, and ultimately holy.  When Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah, that’s what he’s pointing toward.  Anointed to bring good news to the poor:  healing; release to captives:  healing; sight to the blind:  healing; freeing the oppressed:  healing.  To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor is to say that there is healing all around us, and peace abounds, when the whole body is working together in health and wholeness.

What does that look like in the world around us?  The law of the Lord, the loving way of God, is sweeter than honey – honey that’s used to heal sore throats, burns, infections…  It can also be the words and actions we use in the face of conflict.  Conflict comes from competing visions – people/s who want to use the same land, languages and conversations that can be misunderstood, systems that define some people as better or less than others, even the competing visions of who should marry whom or what our children should aspire to in life.

The healing honey needed in the face of conflict is about opening ourselves, our minds and hearts, to larger possibilities.  When we listen deeply to the other, ask for details, and try to understand the other person’s motivations, our own eyes and hearts begin to open.  If we can move away from our own rigid position or ideas, space for creativity opens and relationship begins.

The peace that Jesus promises comes through engagement and openness – what’s often called vulnerability.  The word has to do with wounding.  When we make ourselves open or vulnerable, the relationship shifts, and invites our conversation partner to do the same.  A seed is planted, which may grow and bloom if we stay in relationship.  If not, as Jesus said, dust off your feet and move on to converse with another neighbor.

Jesus repeatedly chooses a stance that avoids both offense and defense, in favor of an open, vulnerable, field of possibility.  His reading in the Nazareth synagogue claims that open stance, offering healing to any who will receive, setting captives free, and announcing the availability of healing and holiness to all.  His culture used shame to control relationships, very much like a caste system.  Some people were deemed unworthy (and unholy) because of their gender, job, or poverty.  Jesus refused that rigid structure, reminded people the door was always open, and invited any and all to enter.

Healing comes of hope and possibility.  Jesus tells us it’s already and always happening.  Turn around, open your door, stretch out a hand, offer to share a meal, listen to another’s lament, let your guard down, be creative.

Walter Wink tells a story about a little boy who was bullied every day on the school bus.[1]  The bigger kid took his lunch, or his lunch money, and many days swatted or beat the little boy.  One day, the child blew his nose into his hand, walked up to the bully and said, “oh, I’ve always wanted to shake the hand of a real bully!”  The big kid was so horrified that he kept backing away until he fell into the last row of seats.  Goliath is felled by a nose.

Healing is all around us, within us (enthused), and awaiting our engagement.  We, and all the partners we can find, are the body charged to heal this world.

Before we had many deacons in this church, a former bishop of New York used to say at the end of the service, “get up, get out, and get lost!”  Go lose yourself in loving your neighbor and healing God’s creation.


[1] Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way.  Minneapolis, Fortress: 2003  p 31