We Are All Healers

December 17, 2023

    Series: December 2023

    Speaker: Bethany Nelson


    Today's Sermon


    "We Are All Healers"


    Scripture Readings 

    Isaiah 61:1-4
    The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion - to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

    Mark 2:1-12 
    When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk?’ But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” - he said to the paralytic - “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

    This is the final week of our Advent series, which is called, “The one for whom we are waiting.” We are examining different aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry as we prepare anew for his birth.  Today, we consider Jesus the Healer. I am the one that came up with that title, but I wonder if Jesus might not be too thrilled to know that I have bestowed that title upon him.  Though he did a lot of healing during his life, healing was never his sole focus.  Healing was never a central part of his ministry.  In fact, if you read the stories in which Jesus healed someone, he almost always healed in order make a different point. The point was not the healing itself.  The point was to lift up the faith of another.  Or to show people what the kingdom of God might look like here on earth.  Or to offer compassion to someone who had reached out to him. Yes, I think Jesus might laugh at us calling him, “Jesus the Healer.”

    That being said, Jesus did heal.  He made blind people see.  He made lame people walk.  As Rob noted two weeks ago, Jesus cast out demons – Jesus the Exorcist.  He was a healer.  There are so many stories of Jesus healing, in fact, that I struggled to decide which story to focus on this week. I had so many options. I finally decided on this story of the paralyzed man and his friends because it is such a cool story. This is really a made for Hollywood type of story. Can you picture it? Jesus is teaching, and he has become so popular that crowds are packed in to hear him. The house is full, the entrance is full, people are spilling out around the house. There is no more room for anyone. Everyone wants to hear what Jesus has to say. A group of four people decide they want to bring their friend – who is paralyzed – to see Jesus. But they can’t get in!  It’s too crowded. Rather than giving up and going home, however, they decide to make a hole in the roof. I can just imagine little bits of rocks and dust falling down on the people who are inside. I can picture them looking up as a hole starts to open in the roof above them. And then … a man lying on a mat gets lowered down through that hole!  And then … Jesus heals him, telling him to stand up and take up his mat. Cool story, right?

    However, did you notice that my retelling left out a whole chunk of the story? Remember, Jesus didn’t heal just to heal … he healed to make a point. When the man first gets lowered through the roof, Jesus doesn’t heal him immediately.  Instead, Jesus forgives his sins. That certainly does not make some of the scribes in attendance very happy. For they strongly believed that only God had the power to forgive sins – no one else. When Jesus tells the man, “Your sins are forgiven,” he is basically telling him, “It is God whom you approach.” It is in this forgiving of sins – not in the act of healing – that Jesus reveals his true identity as the Son of God.

    In daring to forgive the man’s sins, Jesus is also disrupting the economic and power structure of the time. Usually, people had to go to the temple and offer some of their meager resources in order to receive forgiveness. It was yet another way for those in power to exercise control over those not in power. But Jesus is now declaring that he has the authority to forgive sins – no monetary exchange necessary. The scribes can’t believe he is daring to speak in this way, and only then – once Jesus perceives their grumbling – does he physically heal the man. He heals in order to show those skeptics that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

    In this story, Jesus offers a physical healing in order to help people understand his identity and to disrupt the power structure of the time. The actual healing is almost an afterthought. If we were to look at other healing stories in the Gospels, we would find similar situations. Jesus was always pointing to the kingdom of God – always teaching about what God’s kingdom could look like here on earth. If a healing helped to get that message across, great. But I don’t know that Jesus would ever label himself, “Jesus the Healer.”

    In fact, as author Megan McKenna writes, as Jesus’ reputation as a healer started spread, it actually hindered his ministry.  She says that as he tries to teach and preach, “His reputation as a miracle worker dogs him - it seems to handicap him when he wishes to preach about God’s kingdom because the good news he shares does not necessarily save one from suffering or death. No amount of Jesus’ healing is going to exempt people from experiencing pain or enduring suffering: to believe otherwise is dangerous foolishness.”

    How often have we fallen into that trap? Jesus healed so many people … why isn’t my mom, my friend, my co-worker, myself experiencing healing? Why is the cancer getting worse, why won’t the migraines stop, why does the mental illness persist … where is my healing from Jesus?  McKenna would say those questions are dangerous foolishness. If we’re focusing only on physical healing, we’re focusing on the wrong thing. Jesus never promised physical healing, just as he never promised a life free from persecution or hatred or suffering. For Jesus never promised an easy life.  In fact, he went out of his way to explain how hard the life of a disciple would be.

    So why did Jesus heal people? McKenna writes, “Jesus’ intent seems to be to go beyond physical healing to radically alter people’s lives so they will live more humanly and gracefully, following a new authority and power in the world.” Notice that McKenna specifically highlights Jesus’ going beyond physical healing to healing people’s lives. That is an important distinction. Rob discussed this several weeks ago, and I want to explore it a bit more. The difference between curing – which is often what we think of when we think of physical healing - and a more all-encompassing idea of healing. I would guess that Jesus might actually like the title, Jesus the Healer, as long as we are talking about healing in this broad and expansive way – healing people to live more humanly and gracefully. The title Jesus would not like is Jesus the Curer, as that is not at all what his ministry was about. 

    How might we think about the difference between healing and curing?  In her book, “Jesus Freak,” Sara Miles explains it like this – “Jesus calls his disciples, giving us authority to heal and sending us out. He doesn’t show us how to reliably cure a molar pregnancy. He doesn’t show us how to make a blind man see, dry every tear, or even drive out all kinds of demons. But he does show us how to enter into a way of life in which the broken and sick pieces are held in love, and given meaning. In which strangers literally touch each other, and in doing so make a community spacious enough for everyone.”

    Jesus the Healer, who held the broken and sick pieces in love. Who made a community spacious enough for everyone. And who taught and encouraged us to do the same. What does that look like in our world today? Author Rachel Held Evans tells a story about Thistle Farms, an organization in Nashville that trains and employs women recovering from abuse, prostitution, addiction, imprisonment, and life on the streets. As the women heal through the therapy and community offered by the program, they offer healing to others through the aromatic bath and body products they make from essential oils. At Thistle Farms, healing smells like lavender, tea tree, peppermint, and vanilla. It feels like lotion and body balm massaged into the skin. It looks like a flickering candle, and sounds like the whistle of a teapot singing from the Thistle Stop Café.

    The founder of Thistle Farms is Episcopal priest Becca Stevens. She says, “In making and selling oils, we are each reminded that healing is not an event, but rather a journey we walk as we make our way back to the memory of God.”

    That journey is not always a smooth one. Although 72 percent of women who participate are clean and sober two and a half years after beginning the program, like any other recovery group, this one knows the sting of disappointment, failure, wrong turns, and relapse. But love, says Stevens, “carries us beyond the narrow path of believing that healing is moving from diagnosis to cure … Healing is a natural outcome of love. As we learn how to love, we learn how to heal.”

    When Jesus began his public ministry, he quoted the passage from the prophet Isaiah that we heard this morning. Note that it does not mention any curing, but it mentions a whole lot of healing. “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; God has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to comfort all who mourn …” That is the healing that was most important to Jesus. And that is the healing we are also called to do. 

    It's not easy. Certainly we all like a quick fix or a cure. But this type of healing, the type that is a natural outcome of love, is so important to our life together. As she tells the story about Thistle Farms, Rachel Held Evans also comments, “The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relational. It takes time. It is inefficient, like a meandering river. Rarely does healing follow a straight or well-lit path. Rarely does it conform to our expectations or resolve in a timely manner. Walking with someone through grief, or through the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route. In a world of cure-alls and quick fixes, true healing may be one of the most powerful and countercultural gifts the church has to offer the world, if only we surrender our impulse to cure, if only we let love do its slow, meandering work.”

    The one for whom we are waiting healed in so many ways – and so can we.