Friday, October 05, 2007

You preach what you most need to hear.

I preached this morning in the CDSP chapel. It was a healing Eucharist; when I requested this spot, I was only aiming to get over the terror of preaching in that space. I had no idea of the week I would have, leading up to this.

One of my classmates asked me for a copy, later.

I am enormously grateful that I got to do it, that I'm working through this stuff, and that I'm doing it in a way that helps other people.


Matthew 9:2-8

Jesus heals the paralytic.
We know this story.
But we’re used to a noisier telling.
Matthew doesn’t give us the dramatic,
of the men breaking a hole in the roof,
letting their friend down onto the floor
in the crowd, in front of Jesus.
We don’t have any kind of big,
attention-grabbing scene here.
What we have are the words of Jesus,
first to the paralytic,
and then to the scribes,
who are only talking to themselves,
and then to the paralytic again.
We have a man lying on a bed.
His friends, or family members—it doesn’t specify—
carry him to the One they believe can heal him.

A paralytic is someone who physically cannot move,
on their own power.
They can’t stand, or walk,
maybe they can’t use their hands.
Before things like wheelchairs,
ramps, and Social Security,
if you couldn’t walk,
you were totally dependent on other people
to take care of you.
You simply couldn’t move through this world on your own.
There are people in the world now,
in that situation.

All of us here can move our fingers and toes.
Each of us has more power than that paralytic.
We can function in the world;
we can advocate for ourselves.
And yet, all of us get stuck, on something.
We have times when we are the paralytic.
We are the wounded.
We need forgiveness.
We come in search of healing.

Not all paralysis has primarily to do with the body.
Most of it does not.
Can you spend forever staring at your work,
or your life,
or your dorm room—
because you have no idea how to get it organized?
It’s October already,
and I haven’t seen my stapler since May.

Do you wind yourself so tightly around your anxiety,
that it makes you physically sick?
Have you done something,
or said something,
that you don’t know how to fix?

You are so not alone.
We all have been there.
We are here, because we have been there.

How did Jesus respond to the paralytic?
He did two things.
First, he said to him,
“Take heart, your sins are forgiven.”

That phrase, “take heart,”
sounds so very comforting.
“Chin up! God still loves you.”
And it’s true.

The Greek is also rendered, “have courage.”
Literally, they mean the same thing.
They are the same word.
Their connotations are different.

Courage is strength.
Courage is toughing it out,
when you’re terrified.
Courage is looking up at the rocky face of a mountain,
clipping on your ropes,
and climbing.
Courage leads to exhilaration.
It leads to confidence.
It leads to growth.

Why do you need to have courage,
if your sins are forgiven?
Why not just feel about a thousand pounds lighter,
and be happy about it?
Why not just go dancing through your day?

Because forgiveness un-sticks you.
Guilt is not yours to hold onto anymore.
Regret loses its death-grip on you,
your soul,
your mind,
your body.

Because there is no separation between those parts of you.
Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being
are dependent on one another.
The idea that there is a division between
your mind, soul, and body
is a modern, Western invention,
and it’s completely false.

Forgiveness makes you able to rise back into your life,
and so you do.
Back into relationship with God
and the people who love you.
Back into the dailiness you couldn’t focus on before.
Back, onto your calendar.

And getting back into the world,
when you’ve been only halfway present to it,
takes courage.
It takes re-commitment.
It takes being willing to risk making mistakes,
and needing forgiveness.
It takes giving your trust to God,
knowing that you are loved
and you will be forgiven,
again and again,
as often as you need it,
because you need it.
It takes wanting to rise up and walk,
healthy and well,
fully alive.

As Jesus told the paralytic,
“Stand up, take your bed and go home.”
And he stood up, stretched his new legs,
and walked away.

This story is not even primarily about physical healing.
That’s secondary.
The first thing that happens is forgiveness.
The scribes are only here to set up the argument.
Jesus heals the paralytic in order to show his ability—
and authority—
to forgive.
He heals him as a sign that the Kindom of God
was breaking in on the earth.
He heals him to show that separation wasn’t final,
that God wanted to be in relationship with us—
and would risk being human, to do it.

We don’t know what was in the paralytic’s past.
It was never meant to matter.
He was a human being in need.
Jesus forgave him,
and healed him to show that forgiveness was possible.

Why do we need to be forgiven?
Sin is all that alienates us from the wholeness of God.
Some of it is what we do—or don’t do;
some exists because we are human,
and we live in human systems, in the natural world.
In EOW, we confess
“the evil we have done,
the evil that enslaves us,
and the evil done on our behalf.”[1]

Charles Gusmer, in his book
And You Visited Me: Sacramental Ministry to the Sick and the Dying,
makes three basic assumptions
about the mystery of sacramental healing.[2]
The first is that “some relationship exists between sin and sickness.”
Sickness is not our fault,
and it is not any kind of a punishment.
Rather, “the whole human person suffers sickness
as a consequence of evil in the world.”
Viruses, bacteria, fragile bones simply are.
Brain chemistry is what it is.

His second assumption is that “God is on our side.”
God wants us to be healthy, whole, and well.

His third statement is this:
“The promised salvation in Jesus Christ encompasses the total person, for its goal is none other than the resurrection of all flesh…. Jesus has come to free us, to heal us from sin and evil and all its manifestations, so that we can grow to full stature as children of God.”

We don’t always get what we ask for,
when we ask for it,
how we ask for it.
I’m taking a class on the rites of the sick,
and I can’t tell you how it works.
I don’t know why some healings that we ask for happen instantly,
and others take patience, work, and time.

But I read that last statement as saying,
Christ is always moving us toward wholeness.
God is always raising us up.
When we come forward, in faith,
to ask for healing,
we are cooperating in one of the most
basic, intimate, and joyful works of God.

The effects may be screamingly obvious.
They may be imperceptible.
We ourselves may not see a difference,
when everyone around us is commenting on it.
In the act of asking for healing,
we are changed.

In closing, let me go back to the characters
in the original story.
We are all the paralytic.
We are all the wounded person, seeking healing,
on all the levels in which we are broken.
And we are all the paralytic’s friends,
carrying him,
supporting him,
taking him to the One who will heal him.
Sometimes we’re the scribes,
not sure what to make of any of this.

God has given this authority to human beings.
We all are wounded.
And we all are called to help one another heal.
So let us have the honesty with ourselves
to recognize and admit where we are broken.
And let us have the courage to ask for God’s healing
in the midst of our community.

We will be moving from the anointing
into the Eucharist,
the ultimate healing rite.

Let us listen for the voice of God within us,
and let us answer when God says to us,

“Take courage,
Your sins are forgiven you.
Rise. Take up your bed, and go home.”

[1] The Church Pension Fund, Enriching Our Worship 1 (New York: Church Publishing, Inc., 1998), 56.
[2] Charles W. Gusmer, And You Visited Me: Sacramental Ministry to the Sick and the Dying, Rev. Ed. (New York: Pueblo, 1984), 147-48.


Mother Laura said...

Beautiful sermon--it's so hard to draw on your own experience without imposing it on the community, and you do that powerfully here. And I am so very glad that you were able to find freedom and healing through that amazing sacrament even though, as so often, there is more to work through.


Kirstin said...

Thank you,for the compliment and prayers, both.

I'm learning now, to do what I preached about. After the healing, comes the work...

lj said...

Lovely, Kirstin. Thanks for sharing. God's healing has become such an important theme in my life. I can hear that it is for you, as well. Blessings!

Kirstin said...

Thank you, lj! The prayer you posted was a tremendous help to me.
Blessings, right back!

Anonymous said...

Just got to this list today after about a week. The new sermon is wonderful. I have to chew on this. Wish I could have been there last Friday but was again beset by the joys of the probate examiner system in a local court.


Linda Clader said...

This was a beautiful homily to read, Kirstin. Sorry not to have been there--it would surely have been all the more powerful in the context of a healing service. Linda