Preacher: Jo J. Belser
Location: Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, Virginia
Text: Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24
5Pentecost, Proper 8, Year B
“What does it mean to be healed?”
I wrestled this week with two unclean females: a bleeding woman and a dead girl. They won. Every time I thought I had gotten them to speak sermon words, they only babbled.
Bible characters do that sometimes, when they think we should cast our attention elsewhere. I wanted to talk about healing; THEY suggested that we think about death, given that death has surrounded us these past two weeks. We compromised, these lessons and I. What we will be engaging today is the question, “What does it mean to be healed?”
So, turning to our first lesson, from the Book of Wisdom, we see that the author tried here to work out the age-old question: “Given that there is a creator God who is good, how is it that death exists?” We ask this because we emphatically don’t LIKE death, so we think that death cannot be good.
This lesson is from the apocrypha, a portion of our Bible included for our edification, our teaching, yet not actually a part of scripture. In other words, there’s something not quite right included in these books, yet we as a faith community think they are on to something true.
So, too, our first lesson for today, which starts out, “God did not make death.” Well, I ask you, if not God, then who? We fear death, and we don’t like to think that the God who created us and loves us also created death. So we have been trying to figure this out.
We know that the God who loves us does not delight in the death of the living, as our lesson continues. So we agree with the direction our first lesson takes thereafter: God is, indeed, the God of the generative, life-giving, forces in the world.
But is God the God of the other, less generative forces that we see and experience? In other words, is God the God of people who murder other people because of their race or creed or gender or sexual orientation, or who murder other people for just plain greed? Is God actually somehow complicit, involved, in the bad things that happen in life?
We know Job’s take on this question. The Book of Job, which IS part of scripture, suggests that God allows bad things to happen to us, either for a great good or for purposes we cannot understand.
This is where I was in my thinking on this subject when I heard President Obama’s eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pickney yesterday. In his remarks, Obama said that the murderer “didn’t know that he was being used by God.”
Do you believe this, that the murderer was being used by God? Maybe you do, or maybe our President’s speech contains some apocrypha, also. But, the President went on to say, this was possible (and I’m paraphrasing) due God’s grace, given to the families of those who were murdered and shared at great cost by those families when they forgave the murderer despite their unspeakable grief. “Oh, but God works in mysterious ways,” he added.
We acknowledge that incredible good has come and is coming from, not the murders, but from the incredible generative response by the victims’ families.
Incredible bad may come from this awful event, as well. Incredible bad may come in reaction to the good that has been unleashed by the generous, graceful response. But isn’t that God’s way, also: to give us a choice in how to respond, just as the shooter most surely could have turned away from the evil that God allowed him to do?
In our first lesson, we get a glimpse of how theologians of the second or first century before Christ had worked out what we call “the problem of death” or “the problem of evil.” The essence of their reasoning is this:
- God created us to be immortal
- Death crept in
- Righteousness is immortal
- So those who are righteous will be immortal despite death
Herein begins the thought that our physical death is not death forever, at least for those who live for God.
What the author of our first lesson didn’t know—what no one THEN yet knew—is that there would be a Redeemer who would be born into our world who would conquer death forever. Yet still the author of our first lesson got things essentially right. Don’t WE believe that those who are righteous will have eternal life? And that those who are NOT righteous will have to turn from their destructive ways to find that same life?
Which brings me, albeit briefly to our gospel lesson for today. We look there to see how the thinking, the theory, of our first lesson plays out in real life with God was with us in the flesh.
At our Wednesday Bible study this week, Rev. Fanny (who’s preaching at St. Dunstan’s in McLean today) observed that Jesus’ mission here wasn’t to heal people of their illnesses. I think, she said, he was just so full of compassion that he healed people of their diseases. Which gives us a valuable insight into the “problem” of our gospel lesson. There Jesus told the woman he healed that her faith had cured her of her disease. Here’s the problem: If I or my loved one isn’t healed, does this mean that my faith isn’t strong enough? No! Our physical death is inevitable. Even those whom Jesus healed in our gospel today eventually died. No one’s faith alone is strong enough, by itself, to heal disease and death forever. Only God’s can give us everlasting life.
So what does it mean to be healed?
The families of the victims in South Carolina were surely healed by their forgiving the shooter. They still have the pain of their loss, the pain of grief. And yet, aren’t they, by claiming and sharing God’s grace, healed? Can’t they thereby be cured of becoming infected with hate themselves? Isn’t healing as much about how we return to our communities with our diseases, as about being rid of those diseases while here on earth?
Aren’t we, ourselves, healed of whatever illness plagues us when we give thanks to our creator for life, despite illness and death? Aren’t we, ourselves, healed of even death when we no longer fear death, but recognize that our eventual death will bring us to God?
I expect you KNOW this lesson. Some of you understand that we are ALL only “temporarily abled” while here on earth. Sometimes being healed means being free of the fear about what comes next. Sometimes being healed means being cured, for a time. Yet even then we are healed into a different reality, more aware of our mortality and grateful for more time to learn to be righteous.