Epiphany 3C Sermon (2007)

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
Texts: Luke 4:14-21;
1 Cor. 12:12-31a; Neh. 8:1-10

REFLECTIONS ON HEALING

 Extemporize around the following points:

  • Begin with last week’s theme of New Creation in John’s Gospel.
  • When Jesus healed someone, it was often on the Sabbath, and he got in trouble for it. His response: I’m doing my father’s work. The work of ongoing creation.
  • How many people here this morning that work in a medical related vocation? You are helping to do the work of ongoing creation.
  • Now how many of us here are called in our baptisms to vocations of taking part in the healing of this ailing world? That’s all of us. As we die with Christ and rise with him, we are given new life so that we might be part of the story of life in this Creation. We are all healers in this New Creation.
  • How so? Holy Baptism ushers us into Holy Communion, a new way to come together in community. Or in another image: the Body of Christ. Just as Jesus Christ was about healing in this world, we are about healing. Look at the image: a life of offering our varied gifts for the whole, honoring the weakest among us, coming together at times of crisis and celebration.
  • But the template for being a Holy Communion is really in the Gospel for today. Anthropologically, the peace and order of human communities are based on blaming and casting out, on being over against a common enemy. This is the anthropology that it takes the cross to help us to see.
  • We see it this morning’s Gospel, too, as Jesus begins his ministry. He reads from Isaiah 61. What are the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed? The ones we usually blame and cast out.
  • And you wouldn’t know this unless you look up the passage in Isaiah 61, but do you want to know what Jesus skipped? The part about God punishing the evildoers, about an angry God who blames some people as evil and casts them out.
  • Jesus’ ministry reverses our usual mode of operation. Just in case his hometown crowd missed it, the story continues [in a part we read next Sunday] as Jesus uses a healing metaphor: “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!'” The examples he uses Elijah and the widow, Elisha and Naaman the leper — both outsiders. What do his hometown folks try to do to Jesus. Cast him out.
  • Or consider a story we touched on last week, one of the healing stories in John: the man born blind in John 9. (“recovery of sight to the blind”) Disciples immediately ask, “Who sinned…?” They put a moral interpretation on the illness, which is a way of blaming the victim and casting them out.
  • This is huge! It is one of the secrets to the success of modern medicine and science: stop putting a moral interpretation on everything and begin to look for the real causes. We used to do things like blame witches for bubonic plague and burn them at the stake in an effort to end the illness. Today, instead of blaming sick people for their illnesses and casting them out, we look for the real cause and ‘cast out’ the illness.
  • Consider Jesus’ way of healing: casting out demons, healing lepers.
  • We have put the old way of healing behind to a great extent, but it still crops up in some subtle ways. Examples today: a man with AIDS.
  • Or think about the cost of healthcare and the way many are being left out We are still struggling, even in modern medicine, with a way we exclude from health care: the issue of affordability, of not having insurance. We can even blame the poor for not being able to afford it. As healers in Christ, we are called to be advocates of a more just way of paying for health care in which all those who need it can receive it.
  • Finally, let me be more personal with a common way of thinking about the times we get sick. We are still inclined to put a moral interpretation on illness from time to time, aren’t we? We pray: “What did I do wrong, Lord, that you are punishing me with this illness?” Have you ever thought that yourself? Again, you and I are called as healers with the Good News that we can finally put away those false idols of a punishing God. God doesn’t punish with illness. What is it that Jesus says to his disciples when they ask about the sin of the man born blind? “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” In short, creation isn’t done yet. And you and I are called to join in the healing of this world as acts of God’s continuing creation. We are called to healing under the promise that some day creation will be done. Some day God’s power of life will be all in all, and God will wipe away the tears from our eyes. This is the gracious, loving, forgiving God that you and I are called to proclaim in a way that offers healing and life.
  • This goes so much against our anthropology of blaming and casting out, even Christians have fallen back into it through the ages. But realize, too, that modern medicine arose within our Christian cultures. “We didn’t stop burning witches because we invented science; we invented science because we stopped burning witches.” Explain.
  • You and I are called to be healers, to call people into a Holy Communion based around the one who let himself be blamed and cast out on the cross, showing us our sinful way of gaining community, communion, even as he is forgiving us for it. We are called to welcome all people into this body of Christ, into this Holy Communion of healing relationships and healing bodies.
  • Let us come to the table of Holy Communion once again, to seek healing and forgiveness and the strength to go out as healers into this broken world. Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, January 21, 2007

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