August 6, 2017 – The United Churches

Romans 8:18-28

         I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

         Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

         We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.

We have been talking about health throughout the month of July and today we are going to specifically talk about healing. I want to acknowledge right away that talking about healing is tricky business. I’ve worked in the church and in the hospital long enough to know that when people beg for prayer, it is usually for healing of some kind. There is the healing of one’s body, mind and spirit, the healing in relationships, the healing of the systems, the healing of the planet. We pray and pray and beg to be whole. The scriptures are filled with requests for healing and with healing miracles. People are healed with prayer, with the laying on of hands, with spit, with mud in their eye, by touching a garment and apparently miraculously “with enough faith.” We pray and pray for the miracle, and then when it doesn’t happen, we lose faith, shake our fists at heaven, and wonder why we had hope to begin with. We pray because we are desperate. We pray because we can’t fix it ourselves. We pray for magic.

When I was in Rome, I wandered into one of many churches and approached the candles in the back of the church waiting to be lit. I put my euro into the donation box and picked up two tea lights. I lit one for Jill, who is recovering from hip replacement surgery and one for all the others on our prayer list seeking wholeness.  Was I looking for a little magic? Perhaps. What I was really doing was acknowledging that my taking a moment and offering a prayer was setting my intention to join in the healing process. In a beautiful church, filled with others who lit candles in hope, while the walls whispered the words of centuries of believers, I believed that my prayer, my desire to participate in the healing process made a difference.

I believe that healing requires community. As a community, we join our intentions for healing together, working for reconciliation and wholeness. Out of those joined intentions we each carry out our own individual solitary acts of reconciliation, choosing moment by moment to make a difference.

Let me give you a couple of examples. On our trip to Switzerland and Italy, Tim and I observed that the friends that we saw in both countries had painful estrangements with their extended family members. For one friend, her sister had cut her off completely. This friend had within the last few years purchased a home in the same neighborhood as her sister. The break in the relationship seemingly had no explanation and was devastating. Our other friends were asked to move off the family farm because they had a different vision for the farm’s future than the parents who were retiring from the work. There was a deep sense of sadness, betrayal and abandonment. As I listened to each family’s painful story, I wondered how I could be an agent of healing. I did not believe that I had any power to directly influence their situation, though I could certainly pray for them and I did. I could also use their story as a guide to think about my own relationships. In what ways was I contributing to the destruction of any of my relationships? How could I contribute to the wholeness of my own relationships? What specific actions could I do in general in all of my relationships with others to promote healing and wholeness? I began to see how we could all, in thousands of individual interactions move relationships toward wholeness. My choices might not have any direct effect on the friends we were visiting, but what if like the butterfly effect, it did?

Another example of experiencing healing for me has been everything that has happened since the surgery on my c-spine vertebrae. First of all, through Kari, a member of our congregation, I found a very skilled surgeon. Then, I imagine that some of you prayed for my healing, setting your individual intentions toward my health and wholeness. Many of you prepared food for me, bringing over delicious soft meals that I could swallow and from which I could receive nourishment. Many more of you gave me rides to and from and during work.  Others sent cards and others said encouraging words. You each joined together as a community to make a difference in my healing process in any way that you were able. I am experiencing healing.

Others in our church community have been devastated by grief.  You’ve been crushed under the weight of your own sadness. Perhaps you too have received phone calls, cards and condolences. Many people in many small and large ways have offered help. Healing requires community, and it requires the individuals in that community to set their intentions every day to be a part of the process of reconciliation and healing.

In our scripture from the book of Romans, the author spends the first part of chapter 8 calling us away from selfishness. In verse 5 it says that “People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things related to the Spirit.” The passage goes on quite a bit to talk about how destructive selfishness is.  Then we are reminded that we are siblings of Christ, that we are God’s children. We are heirs with Christ, and as heirs, we participate in his suffering and his glory. The author wants to clearly establish that we are a community. We are “family” if you will, hopefully in the healthiest sense of the word. Then the passage moves from suffering to hope. The whole creation is groaning (Verse 22) together and suffering labor pains. This is an illustration that most of us can relate to. It is amazing to me how many times the Bible speaks of labor pains. (27 verses) I believe that all of the books of the Bible are attributed to men, but even if you are not the person experiencing the labor pains yourself, if you have been in the room while someone else is laboring, it is frightening, exciting and deeply profound. The person in labor is suffering. I managed to give birth to both of my children in that “no drugs” era and it was definitely painful. But, I think the author’s point here is that labor is suffering with a purpose.

That purpose is new life. It appears that nothing beautiful comes without a measure of frustration and pain.  When we are in the midst of suffering, we put our hope in the beauty and joy that will come. As the scripture says, if we see what we hope for, then it isn’t hope.

When we are suffering, when we are blinded, it is hard to hold on to hope. Chapter 8 of Romans says that when we are totally spent, confused, exhausted, sad and wordless, then God’s spirit prays for us. We might experience that as an inner voice, and we might experience that as someone coming along side of us, and holding us up when we cannot take another step ourselves.

As I said at the beginning, talking about healing is tricky business, and perhaps at times we don’t know how to talk about it. But we do know how to talk about love. We experience that love when others come along side of us and hold us up, join us in our suffering, help us to hold on to the hope and cry with us when we are discouraged. We know how to talk about love when we are the ones to pray for another, when we use every opportunity available to us to offer reconciliation and wholeness, whether that is a kind word or standing in solidarity with those who are oppressed by systems. We talk about love when we realize that everything in the world isn’t about us, and that even when we are suffering, we can hold on to gratitude and hold out hope.

As a community of Christ, today we are going to hold one another in the gaze of that love, offering reconciliation and healing to one another. After we are nourished at Christ’s table, we will take our small and mighty acts of reconciliation into the world.