Preached July 3, 2016
at First Christian Church, Bowling Green
Text: Gospel of Matthew Chapter 9:18-34
Sometimes it seems like nothing will ever be okay.
We look left and there is pain and hatred.
We look right and there is violence.
We look at our own homes and lives and see the ways that we fall short of the life we long for, the life we thought we would have.
Sometimes it seems like we are just going through the motions.
There are days for many of us when ask ourselves quietly, “What more can we do? What does all of this even mean? What are we even doing here?”
We scramble like little rats in those mazes where they do experiments, we scramble to try to make it better, to get to the end of the maze where we can rest and where everything is okay, we’ll get our treat.
If only we would make a little more money, things would be better. We could relax.
If only our spouse would love us a little more, things would be better we tell ourselves.
At each age, each life stage, we have our own set of if-only’s….
There have been and will be the big things – If only the cancer would be healed, we wouldn’t complain about the small things anymore.
If we could feel better. Our bodies. Our hearts.
If only we would find a job, then it would be okay.
If only we could stop drinking.
If only people would quit being selfish and violent.
If only people would vote for reasonable people.
There are so many if only’s.
For those of you who have ever struggled with acute or chronic illness, you probably can especially relate to this. Life seems tough until you are sick all the time. Or until you are facing death. And then you think, “Wow. I didn’t know. I didn’t really realize how hard it could be or how good it was before this happened.”
When you have those good days, you feel light and think, “Ah I will never stop appreciating this.”
I was chronically ill from the time I was in my mid-teens until I was well into graduate school. I went to doctor after doctor and got mostly sort of guesses at what it might be, but no one really knew. I was exhausted all the time, walking to my car from my house was a big undertaking. Some of my teeth fell out and my fingernails detached and fell off.
And I will always remember this day in college – it was in April and I was worn down from years of doctors and feeling bad and trying hard and nothing working.
And I woke up feeling okay. I remember standing up and walking to the bathroom that morning and feeling light. I could breath easily, my head didn’t hurt.
I hadn’t eaten so I wasn’t sick to my stomach yet.
And I took a shower and got dressed and was walking on campus in the warm spring sun and I remembered. I remembered what life was like before I was sick. I remember literally there was a bounce in my step. I thought, “Oh what did I do to make it better today? How can I catch this feeling? This calm.” I remember wiggling my fingers and moving my neck back and forth.
Nothing was hurting.
I remember thinking, “I wish I could put this in a bottle. This feeling of being okay. This feeling of things being. I want to keep it. I want to hold on it.”
And we have these moments, maybe some more pronounced than others, but we have these moments of wanting to capture the present moment and hold onto it, the times when things seem good and okay.
But of course, no matter if it a good day in the midst of sickness, or a good day in the midst of a stressful life, or a day without bombings on the news, or a moment of connection with someone whom we love but we struggle to make things work with, we cannot capture these moments when things feel okay and keep them or hold onto them.
We are always in a back and forth time, in between holy moments and seasons and the ordinary time of existence when we bump up against the limits of human compassion, the limits of human bodies… the reality is that day in and day out we bump up against the limits of love and care and peace.
Our topic this week is about healing, and I am struck by the deep need we all have for healing – both physically and psychologically – individually and as a society. Yet, we make shockingly little progress on it.
Many of us face what some people call “first world problems” – the car is broken, air conditioning is not working, the car in front of you isn’t going fast enough and you want to get where you are going right now, the sound system at church isn’t working right, put our foot in our mouth, we send the kids to school with mismatched shoes, or forget the birthday of beloved.
And it is not that these are not real challenges, but wham – all of our daily struggles end up feeling pretty minor when we face the really hard stuff.
For those of you that have lost a loved one, perhaps you know this too well. If only we could see her one more time. If only we could hold his hand, kiss him, or sing to her again.
In the face of great pain, all of a sudden previous pain seems kind of minor or trivial.
In times of great pain or desperation – our own illnesses, facing death in a more imminent way, facing the loss of someone we love, in our come to Jesus moments – thing seem clearer, priorities obvious.
But man is it hard to live that on a day to day basis. It is hard – really impossible to hold on to the clarity of a moment.
And so we try hard to try to figure out how to make things be like the should.
I want to say that again because that at the heart of what I want to talk about today.
We try hard to figure out how to make things be like they should.
And frankly, for most of us, that doesn’t really go very far. Because once you get things like you thought they should be – maybe you improve your marriage, you figure out how to heal from abuse or addiction, you finally get your house clean and yard mowed and closets cleaned out, your business set up, you are not longer sick, or your finances in order – there is something else.
Sometime that something else is that you realize that the color of your carpet doesn’t really look right, or the car you thought you wanted is looking a little old. Sometimes it is realizing that you thought that getting the right job and the working really hard and making enough money would make things be like they should, you thought getting married would help, or when you had a child then life would be like you envisioned it.
We live in a culture and a time that says always, “More.” More more more. Try harder, work harder, get more and do better. The grass is always greener! You thought you were doing well because you were feeding your kids brown rice and vegetables? Well come to find out your brown rice has high levels of arsenic in it and the organic vegetables you bought from Kroger’s that are shipped in from California are using up all the water in California.
There is always something else we can do better and we live in this if-only culture that always whispers to us like a siren, “A little more. Try a little more. Get a little more. Do a little more. You aren’t quite good enough yet.”
And what we are really trying to do with all these things is to heal. We are trying to make ourselves whole, complete, well. We are working hard to make better the things that are broken because we live in a broken world.
We are taught often that we can get to healing like it is a line on our productivity to-do list. Healing of our bodies, our relationships, our hearts, our minds through check-lists.
We are lured by the call of our to do lists and our pinterest boards and productivity hacks that if only we get the calculus right, get the right app on our phone or right plan, things will finally be better. The right mix of hard work, insight, good tips, clean closets, healthy food, and better elected representatives and we would be set.
It is a tempting story.
Yet, even when we do all the right things, we still get sick.
We do all the right things and people we love still die.
We try to do all the right things and we still face pain.
We still have that secret we haven’t told that eats at us.
We still feel shame. We still make terrible mistakes – sometimes on purpose and sometime by accident.
And this is not because something is wrong with us – it is not that we haven’t come up with just the right mix of How to Be in the World but it is because we are in a world where wounds and pain are just part of what we have to face from birth until death.
It doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of good – joy and love and connection and beauty and healing and hope – but it means that we will never find a way to get out of the hard stuff. We won’t be able to check off enough boxes for everything to be okay.
As we see Jesus in chapter 9 of Matthew, for him too it is just one thing after another.
He is going to the girl who died and on the way meets the bleeding woman who needs healed.
He gets to the girl who died and brings her back to life, moves right onto the blind men, and then to the person who cannot speak.
One thing after another.
And as we read the story of Jesus’s life and death and resurrection, it never stops. He does slow steady work, healing here, healing there, but in fact he does not fix it all. He did not wave his hand or a magic wand and make it all better, rather Jesus life and death and resurrection created the space for a new kind of healing.
He lived among the people, in the mess of this human existence, slow and steady, in a very little corner of the world doing what he did. His acts of healing, his preaching, his love, and his speaking hard truth about things that undid the way it had been done before.
His hard work and hard love in the face of dogma and imperial power brought his life to an end very early, but he knew this too and prepared for it.
He lived into his death by the very human act of gathering folks around him that loved him and whom he loved, teaching them slowly and patiently, inviting them to walk with him. Knowing that his time on earth was limited, he says later in Matthew, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Some have interpreted this as telling the disciples to convert people to Christianity by saying a particular kind of prayer or, as some Christians have seen it, as pressuring or forcing people to convert. But when I read this, I hear “baptize them” – tell them that they can die to their old selves and be renewed!
Teach them what I have taught you – to heal people, to walk with people where they are, to hope together that the times we are in today will not remain as they are – that there is another way than the violence of occupation and violence imperial power and ways of being religious that are dogmatic and exclusionary.
There were fifteen miracles where Jesus healed people in Matthew.
He attended to one after the other, knowing that he would never check off all the boxes. It would never be completely okay, but it would a little better. For today. And tomorrow he would do the same thing again.
Our culture thrives on the idea that you can have it all, but in his commitment and reality of his full humanity, Jesus showed with his life that you cannot have it all and your work will never be done.
He knew that in his lifetime he could not fully heal the world and be true to his divine nature and his human nature.
His life provided an example, a new way forward, a new paradigm for God that was not the God that sends down fire and brimstone on cities and towns, but a God that rides to his death into Jerusalem on a little donkey.
A God that goes to the sick among us, those on the margins of society, and calls his people to do the same.
In Luke we read how Jesus sends the disciples out to heal, bid them to travel light, and then later sends out 72 to heal in his name. No one went out with a grand hurrah or weapons or pomp and circumstance, “We are here to save you!” He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.”
The amazing thing about Jesus as the person on which our faith is based is that he was not some magical sorcerer who waved his wand and fixed things, but he was with his people doing what he could.
The stories of miracles in the bible call us to a life of healing, but not a life where we can do it all or have it all.
The stories of healing in the bible remind us that it will be one pain after another. Among those we love. In our society.
So as we go out to the world, hurting like we will hurt, watching the hurt flash before our eyes on the news and in our neighborhoods, tell yourself that our journey is long and there will always be something else.
We can endure this, we can do the work we can do, little by little, by keeping perspective. “I will be with you always,” he said. Paul said, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
Our call is not to be all okay ourselves, and not to make the world all okay, but it is do to the incredibly hard work of healing day in and day out when things are a mess, not giving up on ourselves as we mess up over and and over, and not giving up on others as they mess up over and over. Not giving up when things don’t go how we want them to, when the hurt seems unsurmountable.
The story of Jesus birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension is a story of long, hard slow work, where Jesus teaches us to do what we can with what we have, knowing that we cannot do it all, or have it all, and we must get up every morning and face the world and try to make it better even if that costs us everything.
So let us keep up this slow hard work, my friends, in a world that desperately needs patient, forgiving healing people.
May it be so.
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