Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pentecost 2A, 2017: Proclaim. Pray. Heal.

Lectionary: Genesis 18:1-15; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8

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En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

During my year-long sabbatical after leaving parish ministry, I discerned a call to increase my ministry as a spiritual director. In this ministry, I get to have deep, meaningful conversations with God’s laborers in the field, both of us listening deeply for the voice of God for them and for the world.

One of my roles as spiritual director is to lay down my own defenses so that I can enter deeply and quickly into a mutually trusting relationship with the directee. This enables me to recognize those moments when the directees walls come up – their defenses – which stop the flow of love between them and God, them and the world, or them and themselves.

When this happens, I mention it, bringing it into our sacred space for reflection and discussion. It isn’t about judgment, but about intention. Both of us are intentionally paying attention so that whatever stumbling blocks or hindrances come up, the directee has opportunity to notice them, listen for the voice of God, then make a choice about how to proceed.

This is precisely the process I see happening in today’s gospel from Matthew. In fact, I see it in the entire 9th chapter of Matthew which chronicles Jesus’ healing ministry in a variety of its forms.

First, Jesus heals a paralyzed man by forgiving his sins, thereby restoring him to his family, his community and his life. Then he calls Matthew, the tax collector (and author of this gospel), who was hated by his own Jewish people, restoring him to wholeness and holding up mercy as a priority over proper religious practice.

Next he raises a dead girl to life and stems the flow of blood, the source of life, from the hemorrhaging woman. Then Jesus opens the eyes of two blind men, and restores the voice of a mute man riddled with demons.

And this is where our gospel story picks up. Matthew summarizes that Jesus had gone to all the cities and villages, teaching as a rabbi would, but his teaching was a new proclamation. He was heralding the good news that the kingdom of heaven was at hand.

I want to pause here and look at those words: “kingdom,” “heaven,” and “at hand.” The Greek word we translate as “kingdom” means “royal dominion.” “Heaven” translates as “overarching, all embracing, including everything that is.” And “at hand” translates as “to draw near, to join one to another.”

Jesus is announcing something we need to hear as much today as they did back then: that the royal dominion of God, which is overarching, all embracing, and includes everything that is, has joined heaven and earth into one, right here, right now.”

See if this sounds familiar... “on earth as it is in heaven…” In Jesus heaven and earth, flesh and spirit, have been eternally joined together - made one - and when we live that truth, we are laborers of the harvest, physical locations of the powerful, healing love of God for the world – just as Jesus was first.

For Jesus, healing wasn’t just about fixing problems. It was about restoring anyone and everyone who was helpless or harassed to wholeness of life, wholeness of spirit, wholeness of purpose.

I think we often hear these healing stories and distance ourselves from them in our ministries, believing surely we can’t do what Jesus did – but that’s a mistake. Didn’t Jesus say we would? “...the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these...” (Jn 14:28) Greater than raising the dead and healing the sick? Yes. Seriously.

Seriously. If we remember that God is always the actor and we are simply God’s agents, earthly locations of God’s creative love, laborers of God’s harvest, then we recognize like Sarah eventually did, that absolutely nothing is “too wonderful for the Lord.”

Jesus says, “As you go, proclaim the good news…” Check. We can do that… as long as we don’t have to evangelize – right? Jesus says, “…heal the sick.” This is harder, but probably most of us feel like it’s possible. Jesus says, “…raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” Whoa! Really?

Doesn’t that feel like it’s impossible? Well it isn’t. Consider this: if a person can’t take the next step in their lives, they need to hear the hope we have to proclaim. These are the paralytics we are called to heal.

Then there are those among us who suffer from cultural hatred - the LGBTQ community comes to mind. While some in the religious world justify their continued exclusion by citing proper religious practice, we are sent to show mercy and inclusion, just as Jesus showed Matthew.

I’ve known people who are living on the outside, but dead or dying on the inside, teetering on the edge of suicide or homicide. These are the dead whom we can raise to life.

Have you ever known someone who desperately needs their eyes need opened to the truth of their value to God and to us? These are the blind we are called to heal.

What about someone so tortured by memories of past abuse that their identity as beloved is lost? These are the lepers among us who need cleansing.

Or those whose early lives were so crazy they can’t make sense of a sane world, so they can’t live functionally in the present? The good news we herald is the means by which today’s demons are cast out.

We are called to notice and heal the pain of the world.

This week we witnessed the raw pain of Philando Castile’s mother at the acquittal of the police officer who killed her son. It’s also the anniversary of the mass racist murders by Dylan Roof at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston. Whatever you believe about these events, racism lives, and the pain of the African community is real.

Our Baptismal vows call us to strive for justice for all people, respecting their dignity. I don’t know what the answer is here, but I do know we have much work to do, and prayer is where our work begins, but not where it ends.

Meantime, there are laborers already working on the harvest right here at All Saints. I know of at least two laborers who devote themselves to those who are helplessly addicted to alcohol and drugs. These two know and herald the good news that there is freedom from addiction and new life worth living. I know of two others here who are voices for the voiceless.

Our world offers us plenty of harvest, if we choose to be laborers. What hinders us?

I think we assume that we really can't heal the blind or the mute and raise the dead; or that we don’t have demoniacs anymore (now we have psychiatric diagnoses). I also think that many of us believe that God isn’t doing today what God did in the days our Scripture was being written.

But I’m here to tell you, that’s just not so. God is working miraculous healings all the time, right here, right now, through the laborers who choose to be sent into the harvest.

There is preparation for us to do, however, before we head out there healing the world in Jesus’ name. First, we must answer Jesus’ summons to us to come to him in prayer. There is where we receive the power to intentionally notice what is hindering someone from the free flowing of God’s love in them and through them to the world.

We don’t remove the hindrance. God does. God is always the actor. We are simply the physical locations of the powerful, healing love of God for the world. Jesus embodied this first. We embody it now.

Secondly, we must be willing to give as freely as we have been given. The good news was given to us as a gift. We didn’t earn it and we can’t lose it. It’s ours because God loves us all and desires wholeness for us all. It’s unfortunate that this translation of Scripture uses financial language here: “You received without payment; give without payment.” It’s a poor rendering of the message. A better translation is: “Freely you have received; freely give.”

So I say to you: freely give to anyone and everyone who needs the good news that they are included in in the over-arching, all embracing royal dominion of God… the good news that everything that is, in heaven and on earth, has been joined as one in Jesus the Christ.

This means that redemption is God’s response to all the pain in the world, and we, as agents of Jesus Christ, are co-creators of this redemption, if we choose to be sent into the harvest.

Now, let’s make and partake of the holy food and drink that strengthens us for our work: the body and blood of Christ. We must take Jesus in, not just in our thoughts and beliefs, but into our very bodies, which is our invitation to him to work through us to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons.

For truly nothing is too wonderful for the Lord. Amen.

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