Sermon for 10/24/20: What’s Health got to do with it?

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VFW Post.Stained Glass

21 Pentecost

Ps. 90:1 – 6, 14 – 19; Deut. 34:1 – 12; I Thess. 2:1 – 8; Matthew 22:34 – 46

On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.  Matt. 22:40

 

The year was 1984.  That was year that the singer Tina Turner, in a ballad, captured and occupied for three weeks first place in the musical world of popular music.  The title of that ballad was “What’s love got to do with it?”  Tina Turner, for and in her generation, was not the first to raise that question.  There were other poets and singers who had preceded her centuries prior in raising this intriguing question that has fascinated humankind, actually since beginning of time.

Was it not love that lay at the center of the first assassination, the murder of Abel by his brother Cain? (Genesis 4:8)  And let the record show that Tina Turner has not been the last, as others have since followed her.  In fact, one of my former colleagues in our Religious Studies Department—I was in the German Department–who retired years prior to myself from the college, offered a course which bore the title of Tina Turner’s ballad.  Her course was not aimed at converting our students to a particular religious tradition, but rather to aid them in discovering how people of various faiths and people confessing no faith at all have agreed and disagreed regarding that which plays such a central role in human interaction.

Time does not permit that I should outline or list for us those who have wrestled with this question “What’s love got to do with it?”  Let it be sufficient, given our liturgical setting, that I reach back only so far as the Bible, our Book of Record.  And let us limit our scope even further to that portion of the gospel that is appointed to be read for this 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, the period after Pentecost.  “What is required of us?” asks the Pharisee trained in law. The answer given is a simple one: love God and love neighbor with the same fervor as you love yourself. (Matt.22:37 – 39)  LOVE!

I propose to you on this day, that that love, which Jesus of Nazareth requires of all who would call themselves his disciples, manifests itself in many forms.  And so it is that I would, if I could, shout from the rooftop that that love obligates us, as people of faith, to care for the physical wellbeing, the health of our fellow humans.  Of what concern is it, you may well ask me, if we were gathered around our tables in St. Francis Hall, enjoying in person one of our lively “world famous” St. James coffee hours—how can you make the connection between physical health and the commandment to love neighbor as self?  Should it not suffice simply to preach about securing our spiritual health in this world and in the world to come?  Is that not what God is asking us to consider, our spiritual health?  Surely, you are not trying to convince us that we ought to become socialists?  Is this perhaps a deft move on your part, a slight of hand, in order to insinuate politics into our religious worship?

As a person of faith and as a priest in the Church of God, it is my firm belief that God wishes nothing more than our spiritual and physical good health.  I lay before you a limited number of evidential material:bleeding_women_Marcellinus-Peter-Catacomb

  • Luke 9:40  Jesus heals a woman suffering from a blood disease.  “As he went, the people pressed round him…A woman touched the fringe of his garment; and immediately her flow of blood ceased….And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’” 
  • Luke 9:52  Jesus heals the critically ill daughter of Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue.  “…he said, ‘do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping…taking her by the hand he called, saying, ‘Child arise.’  And her spirit returned, and she got up at once; and he directed that something should be given her to eat.” 
  • Mark 10:46  Jesus gives sight to blind Bartimaeus.  “And they came to Jericho; when (Bartimaeus), a blind beggar, heard it was Jesus, he cried out, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’…And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And the blind man said to him, ‘Master, let me receive my sight.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well.’  And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.” 
  • Luke 10:29  Jesus lauds a Samaritan who provided for the healthcare of a severely beaten victim of robbery.  “And a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where (the man) was… and went to him and bound his wounds,…And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’” 
  • Matt. 8:1 Jesus cleanses a leper.  When (Jesus) came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’  And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’  And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 
  • Matt. 8:5  Jesus heals the servant of a centurion, a commander of the Roman occupational forces in Palestine.

 

Just as I cannot cite to you all the instances in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, in which our Creator has declared that the Divine Will is that we human should live healthy and productive lives, so am I not able to list all those times in the New Testament, when the man we call Lord addresses directly that love of neighbor is not a theoretical proposition.  Not only were the blind made to see, the deaf were given hearing.  Should we not consider the feeding of the five thousand men plus women and children, or the care we should take of children as evidence of Jesus’ concern for both the physical and spiritual wellbeing as signs of love for neighbor as self?

Ours has not been the first generation to engage in disputes regarding the role of religious thought in our public discourse, or the validity of science in decision-making, as painful as our current situation is to bear.  This debate has been ongoing over centuries, often flaring up when a society feels afraid, anxious, and unanchored, both psychologically and spiritually.

If the few examples entered into evidence above and today’s gospel teach us anything at all, it is, to petition for relief of physical maladies, as well as for caring for physical needs of those in and beyond our own circle have been a concern of the church since its very beginning.  Should our Book of Record not deceive us, it is precisely the Summary of the Law which provides us as people of faith, with the rationale to strive for the spiritual and physical wellbeing of God’s creation in our own time.  What we desire for ourselves, should be also that which we desire for others.

It has been now several years that I attended a Diocesan Convention where, although the financial business of the diocese was conducted, the real business of the convention was not conducted in the language of “whereas,” the “therefore be it resolved”.  Rather, we heard from leaders who addressed the human dilemma.  We heard from individuals representing medicine, law, and religion.  Presentations were made also by individuals from several faith traditions: Muslim, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity.

Despite some expected differences, all the participants were agreed on one thing: Our Creator, by whatever name we call him or her, intended us to be in harmony with our Creator and with each, and that harmony presupposes good health: spiritual, emotional, and physical, and that we should strive to alleviate as much human suffering as humanly possible.  None, including the scientists, challenged the efficacy of prayer, but almost each stressed our participation as partners in furthering the creative order and betterment of the human condition.

Ether Monument, Boston, MA

Ether Monument, Boston, MA

In fact, it was one of the medical doctors who, with a bit of humor, suggested that people of faith should have greater confidence in the medical profession.  He pleaded with us and with our fundamentalist sisters and brothers who purport to rely on a literal interpretation of the Bible, to return to the Book of Genesis.  It seemed that when the battle between scientific discovery and religious faith was raging in the 18th Century in Scotland over the use of anesthesia during surgery, the discoverer quieted his religious opponent with the following:  If we read carefully, he said, we would discover that God was the first anesthesiologist.  In the Book of Genesis, God caused a deep sleep to come over Adam before he took a rib out in order to create woman!  God offered us a covenant that made us whole, by creating male and female in union with each other.

I called attention to the dialogue between Bartimaeus and Jesus.  And although that story was not center to our gospel reading of the day, there is an element in that story which ought not to go unnoticed.  In Mark’s narrative, “Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly.”  (Mk 10.48)  For me, this shows fortitude and courage.  In the face of threat, Bartimaeus did not back down when people told him to cease and desist and to take his suffering, his lack of wholeness, like a man.  For me, this is a reminder that we ought to be patient in prayer and persistent in action.  It is likewise a reminder that people of faith have every right not to be cowered or intimidated by other people of faith, or of no faith at all, or by those, secular or religious, who would seek to devalue the action which that true faith calls forth.

Imagine the Bartimaeus story as a play on stage: “So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.”  Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, and as a beggar, Bartimaeus would have been poorly clothed, thus having to rely on his cloak for protection against the elements.  To throw away his bedding, pillow, windbreaker, his warmth, his security blanket—that was to let go of all he had come to depend on.  This story of healing is unrelenting in challenging us to let go of things in our lives that are holding us back from a deeper relationship with God and with each other.  As a beggar and as a blind man, Bartimaeus had very little; in fact, he had nothing to offer Jesus other than himself.  We, you and I, may have more financial resources and more talent to offer than a Bartimaeus or an individual ill with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) to God, but ultimately we know that displaying our wealth or status is not how we shall stand before the Divine Presence.

Finally, and to our advantage, the Bartimaeus story does not end only with Bartimaeus gaining his sight.  Bartimaeus, and I quote, “followed him (Jesus) on the way.”  If we forget not that Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem, I can imagine a sequel to this story, or at least a second act.  I can imagine that Bartimaeus was in that Palm Sunday crowd who cheered and welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem as the Chosen One of God.  Now sighted, he wanted to share with others who were in the process of their own healing: his act of faith in reaching out to Jesus, his being healed, and then his following him.

What’s health got to do with it?  If we but look to God’s Messiah as our guiding light, we know that we are heard, aided, loved; that both our spiritual health and spiritual health are not a ‘either/or’ binary, but is rather from the foundation of the world the ‘both/and’ essential element in our connection to God the Creator.  This process, I believe, is the crucial relationship between faith and healing.  As we seek continuously to bring our lives into harmony with what we believe to be God’s plan for us, individually and as a worshipping community, we would do well to remember that we, like all touched by God’s Messiah, can only offer ourselves, and through our prayers and petitioning, invite others to join us along our journey, and that in so doing, we come to a fuller understanding of the Divine Plan.

According to St. Matthew’s record, this it is what Jesus proclaims just before he responds to the question of the Pharisee trained in the law:  “…have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  He is not God of the dead, but of the living.’   And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching”  (Matt. 22:31b)  And so great can be also our own astonishment.  AMEN

Images:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_healing_the_bleeding_woman#/media/File:Healing_of_a_bleeding_women_Marcellinus-Peter-Catacomb.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ether_Monument_Overview.JPG