Sermon on Healing *(for clergy) that I preached at the Festival of Homiletics

 

Me, Cary Gibson, and Peter Mayer. I seriously loved conspiring with them both.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.  -Mark 7

 

I was recently trying to explain to one of my “secular” friends what a Masters of Divinity is.  Sometimes feel like outside the church world that having a degree from a seminary is kinda like having a degree from Hogwarts. Sure, we know all about the magic, but like, outside the wizarding world no one cares.  Don’t get me wrong, we learned some cool stuff in seminary– but usually it’s stuff normal people don’t care about.  Kinda in the way I don’t care about football.

I mention this by way of getting to the fact that the thesis I wrote while at CU Boulder was a cultural history of Deaf churches in America and to date I have never once been able to work it into conversation at a cocktail party … but given our Gospel reading, I finally get to work it into a sermon so…I thought: wouldn’t be fun to start this morning with a little American history lesson. So here we go:  For most of the 18th and 19th century, long before it was a vacation spot, Martha’s Vineyard was a bi-lingual community.  It was a bi-lingual community because everyone spoke both English and, interestingly enough, not French, or Spanish…but sign language.  See, deafness can be a recessive hereditary trait and at this point, Martha’s Vineyard was a pretty isolated genetic population which meant that any given person on the island could have both hearing and deaf siblings.  As a matter of fact, in the mid 1800’s there were areas of Martha’s Vineyard where 25% of the population was deaf.  So deafness wasn’t a problem some people had, deafness was just a trait some people had, like blondness or tallness. And everyone spoke sign language, which means Deafness was also not a disability.

I mention this because I’m pretty sure everyone didn’t speak sign language in the Decapolis where, in our Gospel text for today, the healing of the deaf man takes place.  Which means this guy’s deafness was not just a trait, it was a problem.  So much of a problem that the text tells us that  “THEY” whoever THEY is… THEY brought the Deaf man to Jesus and Begged him to fix the guy, begged him to fix their problem…um, I mean to fix his problem. Just to be clear: the text doesn’t say a word about what the deaf guy wanted.

So this week I started wondering: if Jesus showed up in Martha’s Vineyard 150 years ago when deafness was just a trait and not a disease would the collective “THEY” have brought him a deaf man to heal? Because wouldn’t that kind of be like them bringing him a man born blonde and  BEGGING Jesus to fix his problem?

And I get that there was not a whole lot of talk about psychology and identity politics and disability rights in Biblical times…and I’m admittedly a hack when it comes to this stuff, but I couldn’t help thinking that THEY were using this man’s deafness to be what a family systems expert would call their “identified problem”.

Hey Jesus – we, the people who are just fine brought you the broken guy so you can fix him.

I can’t help feeling like it would have been more realistic if all of the THEYs who brought the deaf man to Jesus would have also sought healing for themselves.

But that’s not how we operate, see.  We tend to let the obviously broken people carry all the brokenness for us.  It’s quite the convenient system really.  Like when someone is obviously an active alcoholic, we are thrilled not to have to look at our own drinking.

This system we have where we all agree on who the real drunk is and who the real liar is and who the real emotionally needy person is works really well for us.  I bet right now you could turn to the person next to you and give them the first names of who of the designated drunks and liars and needy people in your parish are.  And if we all think about it, we as clergy end up so often being the ones who play along with it. The culture in so many churches along with our desire to be seen as spiritual leaders collude in making sure that we are always the ones who have concern for the broken people and never are ourselves the broken people and even while we are doing it we know it’s compete BS.  But like any dysfunctional system, it works.  You know,  until Jesus shows up and ruins it.

Because when Jesus showed up in Decapolis and THEY brought him the deaf man, Jesus didn’t play into the whole “we’re fine but here’s the broken guy” thing – instead he took the deaf man away from the THEY. He removes him from that whole system of designated well people and designated sick people. And then, Jesus, in yet another example of having obviously failed his boundaries workshop in seminary,  sticks his fingers in this man’s ears and spits and touched his tongue and then looks to heaven and the text says he sighed. Of course he sighed.  He was probably sick to death of this nonsense.  He looked to heaven and sighed. And the thing is, Jesus didn’t then rebuke the man or his deafness…he didn’t say I cast out the demon of deafness.  He just removed him from the supposedly well people, touched him, looked to heaven, sighed and said “BE OPEN”.

We so often think healing is about identifying what’s wrong and then having that thing cured, but I wonder if spiritual healing has more to do with being opened than it does with being cured.

There’s a famous Evangelical Christian named Joni Erikson.  She became a quaraplegic from a diving accident as a teenager and went on to write a lovely memoir about that story and about her relationship with God.  Having lost the use of her arms she eventually learned to paint by holding a brush in her teeth and she was a real hero of mine growing up.  Which is why a few years ago, when I was watching 24 consecutive hours of bad Christian television for a book I was writing, I was pretty dismayed when Joni Erikson appeared as a guest on the 700 club…because even I can’t be snarky about this woman. It was like Jesus was sticking his fingers in my ears and saying “Be opened to experiencing some Gospel in, of all places, the 700 club” Jesus is just seriously the worst some times. Anyhow, so, Joni Erikson is simply a lovely human being and what she said in that interview forever changed how I view the issue of healing. Not surprisingly,  a whole lot of well meaning and enthusiastic “prayer warriors” often offer to pray for Joni to be healed of her quadriplegia, and unlike me who would likely roll my eyes and say give me a break she never refuses prayer.  But from her wheelchair Joni Erikson says to them, I would love some prayer, but could you instead please pray for healing from the times when I cherish inflated ideas of my own importance … the times when I fudge the truth … the times when I manipulate my husband to get things my own way…sin…’mam, if you want to pray for me pray that I receive the power of  resurrection to put to death the things in my life that displease God.

See, the THEY she encounters might keep praying for a cure but Joni Erikson is opened. She’s one of the most healed people I’ve ever heard speak.

It’s simply a wonderful statement for healing isn’t it? be opened.

It’s an image that’s stuck with me all week.  This might sound weird but all week I kept picturing Jesus sticking his fingers in each of your ears – in the ears of you pastors and saying “BE OPENED”.  And then in the same daydream, before I could stop it, I pictured Jesus’ Holy and unwashed fingers in my own ears. He touched me, sighed, looked to heaven and said Be Opened.  To which I said “oh. no thanks”.

Because, let’s be honest, it’s usually easier to not change and it’s painful to be open and healing can hurt. Like a frostbite patient … when the blood comes back into the extremities it’s incredibly painful.  It can actually be more comfortable to allow parts of ourselves to die than to feel them have new life.  Because sometimes healing feels more like death and resurrection than it feels like getting a warm cookie and glass of milk.

For me what’s hard is that there’s not much self-determination left when I stand in the stark presence of Christ – as he sees me for who I really am and then sighs, looks to heaven and says Nadia – be open.  But Jesus is like that, taking us away from whatever the THEY thinks about us, getting all up in our business and insisting on our wholeness. And by our wholeness I am talking about our wholeness.  Me, you, and every other person serving God’s people.

Be opened jesus is saying to you.

Be opened to the idea that your value isn’t in working 60 hours a week for people who might not even be paying attention.

Be opened to knowing that your own brokenness doesn’t need to be hidden behind someone else’s brokenness.

Be opened to the idea that you are stronger than you think.

Be opened to the idea that you aren’t as strong as you think.

Be opened to the fact that you may not ever get what you want and that you will actually be ok anyway.

Be opened to this whole Gospel of Jesus Christ thing actually, actually, actually being real. And actually being FOR YOU.

Because maybe that’s what healing really is.

Since the radical reign of God that Jesus ushers in destroys the systems of designated sick people and designated well people so that all that is left is a single category of people – children of God.  And in this radical reign of God anything that I use to define who I am… and anything I use to define who everyone else is other than the gospel is going to be taken away and I’m going to hate it and It’s going to hurt like blood flowing back into my frozen fingers. Like

But fear not, good people of God, because what ever it is that you cling to: pleasing people, your stalwart insistence that you are totally fine, worship attendance numbers, your victimhood, your political correctness, your pension…what ever it is you cling to….it can never love you like your Jesus can love you.  A savior who knows damn well what healing you really need and who takes you away from THEM Opens your ears to tell you that you are whole, and you are loved and you are his and that nothing else gets to tell you who you are.  Amen

*this sermon was adapted from one I preached at HFASS last Summer

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=708323261 Caryn Francese

    Oh Pastor, you never cease to amaze. What a great sermon about, well everything I need and society needs to hear right now! Love one another, understand yourself and your strengths and weaknesses before you go and try to fix someone or something else. Words about what grace truly is and how most all of us fall short every day. I am so very touched and opened by your sermons, this and others I have heard, read or watched (big fan of Animate by the way). Peace as your journey continues and thanks for helping those of us who are not truly there yet to know to watch out as to not be a THEY.

  • KC Jones

    So glad I was there to hear it yesterday! Thanks for the invite. One of the things that resonated with me is that we’ve got to realize that we’re all fundamentally broken people. ALL of us. And while there may be different behaviors that aren’t a problem for me, that guy who’s strung out on meth might be one of the most accepting and kind people out there. And if we begin to understand that we’re all fellow travelers and we either get there together or we die alone, the world will be a better place and begin to look more like the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus talked so much about.

  • http://twitter.com/KVG_DC Kirk VanGilder

    ILY, Nadia. Thanks for giving this a larger audience.

  • Catherine

    This is incredible. I wish I could have heard it in person. The words, the messages it holds are so important to me and ring so deeply in my soul as I go through a shift in the tectonic plates of my faith and identity at the same time. Thank you, Nadia! Blessings to you and your ministry!

  • Candyce Paulsen

    Wow, thank you Nadia. My brother who was estranged from us for almost 20 years (his choice) had open heart surgery 6 years ago. I always felt God “opened” all our hearts that day. We now have a much healthier family relationship among 4 of 5 siblings. One brother still chooses to be outside the circle most of the time. I no longer see him as the only broken one or the most broken one. I just pray for his opening.

  • Kate Fields

    Rev. Nadia, thank you for leading us to healing and grace. Your voice was needed and it was heard. Thank you for your vulnerability and humility.

  • Matt Steinhauer

    Lora, I attended the Festival of Homiletics and the worship service where Pastor Nadia preached this sermon. Yes, there is a console connected to those pipes and we worshiped with it’s accompaniment on several occasions this week. It is a beautiful instrument. The “electronics” were probably left over from the night before, when the host (a Southern Baptist congregation) had their Wednesday prayer service. All of us Lutherans, Presbyterians, Epicopalians, United Methodist, United Church of Christ (and I am sure even more denominations were represented) who gathered for the conference this week were especially grateful for their hospitality. I even thought several times, when I know a presenter or preacher spoke contradictory theological perspectives to the host church’s own, how gracious they were to let us be there doing what we were doing. I wondered if a woman had ever preached from that pulpit? I’d be willing to guess a woman with quite a display of tattoos has most likely not! :) Pastor Nadia rocked!

  • Pingback: carygibson.com » a poem for/from Festival of Homiletics 2013

  • http://www.facebook.com/pastortim.christensen Pastor Tim Christensen

    As one who listened 8 rows from the front, I have to say that you and Phyllis Tickle blew up the imaginary world of church for me and I’m grateful, especially for the distinction that I heard (and can now see) between “Be open” and “Be opened.” I was pretty sure it was the latter as I was listening, and especially as the cadence increased in that “Be opened” list at the end, but I kept hearing people talk about how “open” they already are. Me, I came to the FoH because I can’t open myself, and because I need to “BE opened” to some new possibilities… which is why I’m grateful the imaginary world of church is now “openED” by the healing that touched not just my forehead but my life. Thanks for delivering the goods.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=506574373 Fran Ota

    Wow! Thanks for posting this. I think it was distinctly not good that you and Phyllis were in the same time slot as Diana Butler Bass, because I also so wanted to hear Phyllis. Thank you for posting, I will be getting the CD to hear it preached.

  • Mike Burns

    I agree with Tim Christensen…I too attended the Festival but the highlight for me was the morning I worshiped with you and then heard from Phyllis Tickle and then a lecture from you…

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.landon.37 Michael Landon

    Thank you, thank you for this powerful message. As a clergy who has become “sidelined” due to chronic illness and subsequent disability I can’t thank you enough for this message. Healing and cure are not synonymous… and I fight very hard to remember that I am a whole person, who happens to live with chronic illness and not allow those illnesses to define who I am as a person. I have been amazed at how many of my clergy “friends” have abandoned me since I began this journey in 2009 because I was no longer “useful” (able to serve on a committee) and because I cried out for help in the midst of my despair no one knew what to “do” for me. I get so tired of being asked, “so when are you going to get better?”
    Yet, I too know that I still need to “be opened” – I believe this is a lifelong process and not a one time event…

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

    A wonderful and helpful sermon; I wish you were my pastor. I missed hearing the audio, but I could hear your voice in the printed text. This is one of my favorite blogs of the week.

  • Lisa Larges

    After what feels like maybe a thousand years of hhearing patronizing, insensitive, belittling, denigrating, clichaed, tired sermons from able-bodied preachers on the healing of persons with disabilities, (yes, I’m a titch hypersensitive on the point.) It is absolutely stunningly refreshing to read a sermon that turns out to be none of these things. Truly made my day! Bring it!

  • DOH

    Please write a book of your sermons and then send me a copy.