The Adventurous Lectionary – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 27, 2015
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10: 9:20-22
This week, the theme is healing. God heals in many ways and through diverse people. There is no one healing path or modality, nor does any particular religious or medical tradition have a monopoly on divine healing. God heals through prayer, but also Prozac, as my friend Dale Matthews says; through medication and meditation; and through chanting and chemotherapy. Wherever healing and truth are present, God is the source, regardless of whether God’s or Jesus’ name is mentioned.
By focusing on healing this week, I will leap over the passage from Esther. To do Esther justice, it needs to be the primary passage of the day, along with some other passages from Esther, and the preacher needs to tell the story of Esther, her sense of vocation, and God’s care for the Jewish people. It is a remarkable story; one that will be reviewed in my upcoming text, Ruth and Esther: Women of Agency and Adventure, due out this Fall.
The reading from James focuses on the life-transforming power of prayer. James counsels us to pray about everything and in every season of life. Every state of mind or mood is a call to prayer. In sickness and in health, pray. When you feel shame and guilt, pray. When you are happy, give thanks. When you are depressed, ask for healing. James introduces the role of anointing in the healing process. Laying on of hands and anointing with oil create a healing field of force that opens us to a great inflow of divine energy.
With Paul, the author of James counsels us to pray without ceasing. Prayer should be as natural as breathing and should accompany every action. Nothing is off limits for prayer, and the prayer of the righteous can transform cells as well as souls.
Are we committed to prayer in our churches? Do we think prayer makes a difference and can really alter our physical and emotional condition? What are the practices of prayer in your congregation? And to pastors, what are your beliefs about prayer? Do you believe that prayer makes a difference? Can our prayers change weather patterns, as James suggests? Certainly James’ idea of prayer can be identified with the butterfly effect; the impact of small actions – like the flapping of a butterfly wings on weather patterns across the nation. Is it possible that our prayers create a positive field of force that can transform physical and political events?
James reminds us not to judge the sinners in our midst. Our calling is to embrace the lost and broken, to encourage them to confess their sins, and then get right with God. In the spirit of Jewish mysticism, James affirms that when you save a soul, you save the world; when you bring a soul back to God, you are sharing in God’s Shalom vision.
In today’s pluralistic age, the words of Mark 9:38-41 remind us to expand the circle of healing and inspiration beyond our own communities. The disciples are quite pleased with themselves for preserving the purity and orthodoxy of the Jesus’ movement, by silencing the healing ministry of an outsider. They are surprised when Jesus rebukes them for their narrowmindedness and limited understanding of Jesus’ healing mission. Anyone who promotes abundant life is on God’s side, regardless of her or his pedigree. Divine healing is found outside the church; grace is present in all sorts of disguises.
In light of today’s scriptures, we need to see God’s healing touch in Christian worship and laying on of hands and also in Western medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, reiki healing touch, yoga and qigong, and meditative and stress reduction techniques. God’s quest for abundant life takes many forms and we need to explore a variety of healing practices before critiquing them. Moreover, we need to provide guidance for Christians who are interested in complementary medical practices. Other healers and healing techniques, along with spiritual practices from other traditions, can deepen our Christian faith when they are interpreted in the context of Jesus’ healing ministry and the tradition of Christian spiritual formation.
(For more on today’s scriptures, see Bruce Epperly, Holistic Spirituality: Life-giving Wisdom from the Letter of James, Reiki Healing Touch and the Way of Jesus, Transforming Mark: Spirituality and Healing in Mark’s Gospel, and Mark’s Holy Adventure: Preaching Mark’s Gospel for Year B)