Sunday, July 18, 2021
Lectionary 16, Year B

Prayer of the Day
O God, powerful and compassionate, you shepherd your people, faithfully feeding and protecting us. Heal each of us, and make us a whole people, that we may embody the justice and peace of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Jeremiah 23:1-6 From David’s line, a righteous shepherd for Israel
Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22 Reconciled to God through Christ, our peace
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 Christ healing the multitudes

Title:  The Healing Presence of Christ

About the time we were passing from North Carolina into Virginia this past Thursday morning as Scott and I were driving up the coast, I began to listen to a cd (yes, we still have cd’s) of one of my favorite movie soundtracks.  The music is from the movie LEAP OF FAITH.  And while it was a good film and I would love to see it again if I could ever find a DVD of it (Netflix doesn’t seem to stock it), I am happy just listening to the soundtrack over and over again.  It came out around ’92 and starred Steve Martin as an itinerant preacher who was more a fraud than the faith healer he claimed to be.

And while this movie was not based on a true story, sad to say there a too many real folks who practice similar cons to that of Steve Martin’s character, claiming to heal in the name of Jesus for the sake of profit.  That’s profit with an f in the middle, not the ph of Jeremiah and others who have been true spokes people for God.

But in our first reading, Jeremiah lets us know that these charlatans with charisma, these shady shepherds, are not just a 20th or 21st century phenomenon. While they may use the modern inventions of TV and radio airwaves to their fullest advantage, these unholy hucksters were not born with the advent of mass media.  Jeremiah makes it clear in this passage that there have been fleecers of the flock as long as God has had a flock.  In any age it does not take a lot of energy to see specific characters worthy of Jeremiah’s condemnation.  In addition, it is painfully clear that scattering of the sheep has also been a practice of institutions that were called and created to bring the sheep together, to still their fear, uplift the dismayed, and make sure that no one is missing.  Our constant prayer as a diverse community of faith dedicated to the radical welcome of Jesus must be that the guiding of the Spirit keeps us focused with the eyes of Christ, opened with the arms of Christ, and caring with the heart of Christ, lest we fail in our calling to point the world to the good shepherd who loves us, cares for us, and saves us.

There are many examples, too many examples of the mishandling of the gifts of grace, the misrepresentation of God’s abundant mercy, and the robbing of folks of the peace that passes all understanding that is proclaimed by Jesus to those far off and to those who are near. But this morning, guided by our gospel reading and this moment in our congregation’s life, I want to give special attention to those we refer to as faith healers that Steve Martin was emulating in LEAP OF FAITH.

Sad to say, for too long, they have given the ministry of healing a bad name and caused too much shying away from an essential practice Jesus intended his followers to employ and be enriched by..  Although mainline denominations like Lutherans and Episcopalians have finally started to engage this ministry once again, there are still many who shy away from it for fear of being connected to the hysteria of those tent meetings filled with folks falling back as they are slain in the spirit.  And yet, we heard two weeks ago that Jesus sent out his disciples to do just what we do when we employ the healing rite – anointing with oil and laying hands on those who are seeking healing.  And today’s reading even begins with those disciples returning and telling Jesus what they did in his name, following his command, living into their calling, serving the wounded world.

For us, in this place, our practice and engagement of the healing rite is focused on the healing presence of Christ.  We come, admitting that we are in need, that we suffer with dis-ease in body, mind, and spirit.  We come seeking Christ who is leading us to the wholeness of the new life that is ours through his ministry of healing, his words of life, his death and resurrection, and through our baptism joining us to its abundance that is ours through the grace and mercy of God.  And while the anointing with oil and the laying on of hands may be a comforting sign for some of us, we are reminded that this healing presence of Christ comes to us in many and various ways.

Perhaps this past year has made us more aware of this reality.  As the heroics of the medical community has served and saved so many, the knowledge of the research community has provided safeguards and restoration, simple practices that we could all engage in have helped to protect ourselves and those around us.

And in this place, here at St. John’s we have had an added reminder of how the richness of Christ’s healing presence comes to us in various ways.  For we have been blessed, nourished, and yes, even healed through the ministry of Vicar Reed.  Moved closer to wholeness through the inspired and inspiring words of Reed’s preaching.  Kept safe and secure through Reed’s wise counsel as the staff and leaders did our best to navigate the ever-changing landscape of COVID 19 and the community practices it required.  For those who had a chance for one-on-one conversation, I’m guessing you experienced the compassion and care of one who is not afraid to minister through one’s own woundedness.  For those of us who participated in Bible Study, Reed creatively offered the space to raise questions and explore that which might keep us from healing.  For me personally, I experienced Reed’s healing spirit upon arrival.  On July 24th of last year, I lost two dear friends.  Reed arrived and began work on August 1.  I was still numb and in mourning, and Reed could not have been more gentle and patient with a supervisor who just wasn’t ready to supervise.  For all of this and more, Reed, we thank you.  We thank God for you.  And we know that, like the disciples in the gospel, you will go out bringing this gift of healing to others.  But like Jesus’ guidance to the disciples, do remember to take time to rest, for that is also, and is most certainly, a means through which the healing presence of Christ comes to all of us.  From the beginning, sabbath rest has been and continues to be a God given gift.

Reed, I imagine you and other interns who are also finishing their tenure now or soon, are not unlike the disciples who we see returning to Jesus and sharing with one another their experiences of ministry.  Bear witness to the healing presence of Christ that has flowed through you to this community.  And for us who must say good-bye and yet continue the work in this place, we can be assured the Christ’s healing presence will continue to work among us, will come to us through various means, will constantly be renewed, will surprise us.  As we heard in the letter to the Ephesians – 21In Christ (who is the cornerstone) the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

This ministry is not just for Reed, we are all called to be this healing presence of Christ in the world. We seek healing so that we might share it with others.  If the saying hurt people hurt people is true, and life tells me that it is; then healed people bringing healing to people.  (Doesn’t work quite as smoothly but its clumsiness can remind us that while we do the hurting, it is Christ who does the healing.)  Be that as it may, with our call in mind, please turn in your bulletins, back to the gathering hymn on the second page, and join me in using the second stanza as a closing prayer.

As once you welcomed those cast down and healed the sick, the blind,
So may all bruised and broken lives through us your help still find.
Lord, join our hearts with those who week that none may week alone,
And help us bear another’s pain as though it were our own. 
                                                                                              (Herman G. Stuempfle Jr.)
                                                                                              ELW 722 – O Christ, Your Heart, Compassionate

The Rev. Mark Erson,

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