Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Sermon: Healing 24x7

The following is an excerpt from a sermon delivered on August 25, 2019. The Gospel reading was Luke 13:10-17.

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

What a coincidence for me to come here to talk once again about Luke 13. You see, the last time I was here, I discussed the earlier parts of Luke 13, a passage about repentance. I talked about how repentance is our chance to put down the stones in our life that burden us, so that we can finally pay attention to all the signs guiding us to see and feel and taste and hear the loving, grace-filled God who created us. The passage focused not so much on punishment but instead the chance we have right now, at every moment, to accept the invitation of living in a love offered without condition.

Today, 5 months later, we continue to read the next passage with verses 10-17. We hear about a woman, bent over for a couple decades. It was as if she were possessed by an evil spirit. Jesus sees her at the synagogue and brings her healing. Unfortunately, this was on the Sabbath, and well you’re not supposed to do work on the Sabbath. It seems that what he did could be considered a problem by religious authorities who saw the healing as work.

I’m sure you’ve heard lots of discussions about this and we can see why Jesus feels it inappropriate to classify healing as work. I doubt any of us here would disagree with him. Those who saw him doing this could have kept quiet but instead complained about his actions.

We’ve all been in situations where we or someone we love has been sick or in the hospital. Imagine if we were told that the hospital was closed one day of the week. How outrageous is that? We wouldn’t stand for it. But that’s what the critics are saying. Jesus does not hold back at all. He starts off by calling them “hypocrites”. He’s not shy and his defense of his healing ministry is hearty, heartfelt, and heartwarming. He’s on the side of those of us who suffer and there’s no question of that in this passage.

It’s interesting that this story comes right after the parable about repenting. That’s because they’re related. In that reading, the trees that don’t produce could have been chopped down. In fact, that’s what was assumed. They’re not worthy to take up expensive water resources, take up space in our gardens, to warrant our attention. They’re lives don’t matter so just cut them down. But the gardener suggests that they be given time to change. And not just given time. They’re given time so that they could also receive the encouragement, nourishment, and feeding that they need so that they’ll flourish and grow, to be what they were intended to be. They were given the chance to be changed, to be healed, to grow. I think it’s no coincidence then that we go directly from the passage of the dormant trees to a story of healing.

I’m imagining this woman, bent over, like an old tree, in the synagogue. She was probably like many, just coming to hear Jesus teach. She probably stayed in the back, in the shadows, not wanting to be in the way, not wanting people to notice her physical condition. Now the Gospel indicates that an evil spirit plagued her and that’s what caused her condition. She was bent over. Literally, according to the Greek translation, tied up in knots. So I imagine that she would be trying to hide this. Or that people would be avoiding her. Isn’t that what most people do? Wouldn’t most people shift away a step or two if they noticed someone bent over, maybe talking with themselves, maybe not talking at all?
She stood in that synagogue, coming to learn and to pray most likely. There’s just no indication that she asked to be healed. Why is that?

Perhaps she didn’t know much about Jesus yet. Perhaps she didn’t trust him as a healer. Perhaps she thought herself as someone who didn’t matter, and could merely listen and leave unnoticed. Many people who struggle with illness for many years begin to feel hopeless about their lives and conditions. They wait for their turn to be chopped down. She may have felt it pointless to bring up this condition to Jesus.

And yet Jesus saw her. He knew she was there and he knew she needed him. It doesn’t appear in the Gospel reading that they spoke. She never asked him to heal her. Never. He just went up to her. She maybe didn’t even realize what was happening, since she was bent over. She probably was listening to him as she stared her feet when suddenly she hears him say, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”

It must have filled her with awe her to hear those words. Do you have something that holds you back? Disables you? Cripples you like an evil spirit? So many of us have felt broken at some point in our lives, perhaps as we sit here. I know I have. Imagine the shock of Jesus coming to you and saying that you will no longer be broken. That we are being set free. That the chains that have bound us for so long are finally coming off.

I’ve had moments in my life that felt like this. And it’s an incredible feeling. To think that you’re destined to live with something that breaks you -- whether it breaks you physically, mentally, or spiritually – to think that you’ll suffer with this forever and then, without asking, Jesus just comes and tells you it’s time to stand up straight. That you’re fine. That he comes to you unbidden to be a salve to your wound.

What a powerful point Luke makes in this passage. Luke – the Physician Evangelist - is saying that healing comes even without asking. All we have to do is show up, be present, and be in relationship with Jesus, to be open to hearing Jesus’s teaching. That healing will pull our eyes from the ground and allow us to look at Jesus straight in the eyes and be grateful. Like the woman in the gospel, we can give thanks to God.

This didn’t satisfy those who monitored the Sabbath rules. They were quite upset by what happened. You could say they were for some time tied up in knots over Jesus and his healing ministry. OK, so technically, the Sabbath rules may have been broken, but they are really our rules. They’re of this world. They weren’t centered around God. The Sabbath after all was given to us so that we can be focused on God. Focus on God in our lives, focus on God’s gifts, and focus on ways we can be thank God for the gifts of life. The Sabbath is all about God.

Rules that would deny healing on the Sabbath deny the reason for the Sabbath. The rules are about us but the Sabbath isn’t about us. If God can come down and heal the sick, let us give thanks. We can’t constrain God. God can heal anytime, any day, 24x7. And if God can take a broken woman, break the ties that bind her, and make her stand up straight at any time, then she and all of us can truly celebrate the Sabbath and praise God, praise God, praise God.

There are a few Scripture passages where Jesus asks “Who do you say that I am?”. There were different hesitant answers, from “dude you’re Elijah” or “Sorta like John the Baptist?” before Simon Peter says that “You are the son of the living God”. These answers are sort of theological, but I think that the woman in Luke 13, like many Jesus touched, would simply say “You are the One who healed me”.

At the end of the day, aren’t we – to some degree -- all bent over? Aren’t we staring at our feet, wondering if our pains and anxieties will ever be eased? Shouldn’t we stretch out and put ourselves in a place where we can listen to the teachings of Christ and find healing in his presence?

We don't have accept brokenness, in ourselves, in our families, in our communities. Not if we can pay attention and listen. And when we see that we’re in the presence of God, we can straight up and notice that there’s much to be grateful for. We can put down all that burden us and celebrate and praise God on any day, every day, 24x7. And like the Good Healer, we can find our neighbors in the back of the room, and bring comfort and healing to those in our midst who hunger for a life made new.

Youtube recording (sorry about the skewed camera angle!)

Monday, August 19, 2019

Lavender Fields Forever

I've wanted to see the lavender fields of Provence since French I in eighth grade. I recall some of the photos in the text book and the beautiful farms captured my imagination. It wasn't until a backpacking trip in the 1980s during my college years that I got to the region Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. Unfortunately, the lavender wasn't in bloom. And on a subsequent visit, the timing was off as well. No flowers. Not on those visits.

So when our vacation saw us going through the area of southern France, the stars finally aligned and we made sure to rent a car for a drive from Nice to Avignon. I was eager, oh so eager, to finally see these fields and flowers. Perhaps picnic in the fields.

The Alpine mountains come so close to the fields. We were curving this way and that, around farms, around lakes, around rolling hills. We were enjoying the splendor of creation.

Soon, we got our first hint of lavender. You'd think it was in the vast expansive fields that we saw the plants. But it wasn't the sight of lavender fields that we encountered first

We started to smell lavender.

The scent of lavender started to seep in through the car vents. At first the smells were mild, and soon they got stronger, filling the car. We didn't realize what we were smelling at first, but eventually we finally figured it out. What a charge to realize what was happening!

The views soon arrived and they were remarkable. Our eyes were filled with wondrous visions of purple waves. The sun washed the flowers out in the open, the rays streamed through leafy trees onto the plants in sleepy shade, the stores and farmhouses offered bountiful products all made of lavender. We feasted on the floral wonderland.

And it was more, so much more, than just a visual delight. The scents continued to grow ever stronger. In fact, everywhere we went, in any building, in any church, there was refreshing lavender wafting through the air. Normally I'm ambivalent to lavender perfumes, but this was so fresh, so clean, so alive. I was bathing in the lavender from eyes to nose and I was lost in the beauty.

Soon we arrived at a 12th century Cisterian abbey, the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque. To this day, the monks cultivate fields of lavender surrounding them in their secluded and stunning valley. When we went, they had already harvested the fields closest to the abbey but the fields further out were still in full bloom.

While walking around the grounds, we heard the bells ringing out, inviting us all to attend the church at the abbey. Normally, I'd jump at that invitation and enjoy the welcome. But this time I didn't. We stayed outside the church.

We stayed out, because we were already in church, the church of the world, with pews of purple after pews of purple. Purple is traditionally the color of Advent, of waiting, of repentance in the church. I saw the world draped in purple inviting us to change, asking us to welcome the hope of life. I didn't need to leave all that to go inside a church to be in church. I just needed to recognize that the wonder and awe surrounding me were gifts, gifts for me and for all, so that I could say "thank you, thank you, thank you".

Did I hear a sermon out in those fields? Yes. Yes I did. It sounded like "buzzzzzzzzz". You see, bees are needed to help the lavender bloom and let me tell you there were bees. Everywhere you smelled the lavender drifting in the wind, and everywhere you heard the light buzzing of the bees, spreading life around as they bounced from flower to flower. It was life preaching in a non-stop voice. And it was hard to resist saying "Amen".

As our visit came to a close, as the sun started to settle down, I smiled at the uncountable joys I saw, smelled, and heard. The flowers were soft to the touch and for those who wanted to taste, every conceivable food product was on offer with lavender flavors. It was intoxicating and like the wind of the Holy Spirit, it flowed through me with each breath, with each blink, with each smile.

My visit was short, but the lavender fields... the lavender fields are forever.