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Based on the Scripture readings:
Genesis 9
Mark 1
1 Peter 3

2009 March 1
First Sunday in Lent (Healing Service)
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth F. Baily, Senior Pastor

Earthly Healing

Thirty-five years ago, I visited a small Roman Catholic parish El Santuario in Chimayo, New Mexico. It is an isolated adobe and wood building, one quarter the size of this room, with a dramatic carved wooden altar full of reds and oranges, perhaps ten feet high with a crucifix and a life-size Jesus, who is badly injured. The sanctuary is very moving and spiritual, but almost no one comes to see it but to walk through it to a room just off to its left, no larger than a small office, where there is a shallow hole in the ground.

The story is that about two hundred years ago, on Good Friday, a local farmer was walking nearby and saw a light coming out of the earth. He dug and found a crucifix, so he ran to tell his priest. The priest came and took the crucifix back to his own church, but by morning it had disappeared. It was back in the hole. He went again and took it back to his own sanctuary, and it disappeared again. It went back in the hole that now stands off to the left of the Chimayo sanctuary.

Since then, pilgrims have come from around the world to take some of this dirt and make it into tea, paste, or another substances for healing. Tens of thousands of testimonies affirm its power. And that is a story of its own.

What touches me is simpler, though, and more basic. It is the path. Tens of thousands of pilgrims travel to this place every year, and in order to get to the identified source of the healing they have to walk through the sanctuary but also out of the sanctuary, and they have to get down on their knees and they have to reach into the earth and they have to handle the dirt. And, they say, it works.

Now, this is a day of healing prayer at NHCC. It is a long tradition here and in Christianity. And we like to celebrate the best offerings of science that endorse prayer and meditation as part of our healing journey. Some say prayer may be a placebo but that placebos work. Others point out that those who pray regularly literally increase the size and change the shape of their brains while also increasing memory. That's true. A careful study at the University of Texas shows that those who join a church literally live two to three years longer than those who do not, and, the more often you attend each month the higher you go on that graph. This puts church on par with regular exercise and taking statin drugs, so if you fall into all three of those categories, you are really doing well for longevity plus being smart.

But our story of healing and health is not one just of placebos and perfect attendance. Our God has another path of healing, too, which is not focused only on outcomes but on conditions and doesn't affirm only pristine studies but the essence of our real life. So Lent begins with the human condition, which includes a lot of dirt, a variety of crosses, and some uncomfortable topics. Back to top Lent begins with stories of suffering, temptation, and wilderness as well as wounds.

Christianity has a number of dimensions that may not appeal to our intellectual erudition or refined tastes. In Christian theology, soteriology, Christology, and anthropology we encounter the raw human condition. We begin Lent with our foreheads tarnished by the burnt ashes of our good intentions from last Palm Sunday, and there is a significant measure of dirt to travel through. It makes me uncomfortable, sometimes, and it may make you uncomfortable, too. But this is our faith. And there is no way to keep it at arm's length.

Perhaps two of the most discomfiting elements of Christology and anthropology are the notions of the wounded Christ being a healing power for us and that of the wounded healer -- all of us -- also sharing God's power. These are long-refined elements of our faith, essential to the whole story of life and liberation and hope and healing.

We heard almost a five thousand year history of the covenant with God this morning, and there was so much material that it is hard to apprehend. We have the Noah story and the essence of the covenant to heal creation. We have the Gospel account engaging baptism, temptation, and the proximity of God's realm, and then we have the poetry from First Peter about Jesus' death and resurrection in the context of suffering. In these three readings we encounter covenant, temptation, solidarity, wilderness, suffering, and compassion as well as angels and demons, too. It's a breathtaking array.

But there are three themes that suffuse all of them: the suffering of Jesus, the suffering of humanity, and even the suffering of God.

What do we make of this idea of wounded humanity, loved by God? Or more, what do we make of the notion of wounded humanity being part of God's resource to heal the world? Henri Nouwen says that we cannot and will not help one another in healing until we know our own injuries and limits. Not, he says, in some sort of spiritual exhibitionism or romanticized view of life, but in solidarity, self-understanding, and frankly openness to see that the needs of another are real and true and touched to God.

I can't think of a better example of this than the idea of a sponsor for the journey in Back to top Alcoholics Anonymous. The path of healing is blessed by one who walks ahead and beside.

None of us would want to visit a therapist who had not done their own therapy or a physician who thought us all hypochondriacs. The wounded healer is one who has compassion: feeling with, based on experience.

In a sense, that is the faith of First Peter today. The formula regarding Jesus' death and resurrection was not as important to the first hearers as the assertion that Jesus had suffered, and he understood, and that this offers power. In his stripes, somehow, God is active. Mel Gibson made both insanity and idolatry of this truth, rendering it difficult for loving spirits to even hear such a notion. But the folks in early churches who were themselves suffering found Jesus Christ powerful and neither separate nor immune. He was, they said, God-with-us. So we who are wounded are not out of touch with God. Jesus is a teacher, mystic, revolutionary for sure, but He is wounded in His humanity, and God's power for us is even in those wounds.

Christianity does not proclaim a final idea or a more refined notion than former faiths: a Gnosticism for the smarter set who progress intellectually. It offers us God's humanity and ours, starting in the wilderness, as the source of liberation. It offers us a cross that returns to the dirt, scandalous as that is.

In a few minutes we'll assemble at prayer circles, if we like. Some people may have prayers of physical healing. Some may have prayers concerning the economy. Others may name the wars in our world, or the hunger that traverses it. We will not offer any magic. But we offer compassion, increased memory, and solidarity with Jesus. We offer ourselves to walk beside one another and to work together. We offer our faith that in Jesus' wounds God is with us, and that when we are with God the horizons of the covenant change radically to the point that what we receive is more than a placebo but a promise and power. We offer our faith that God has changed this world already and longs yet for change: for our persons, our nations, our peace. It will not be the dirt or the ashes that do this; it will be God with us. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Kenneth F. Baily.  Used by permission.
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Parent page ] Sermon "Sacred Vessels" ] Sermon "No System to Save" ] Sermon "Entitled to be Thankful" ] Sermon "Welcome Food" ] Sermon "Waking Devotion" ] Sermon "Sitting at the Welcome Table" ] Sermon "Table Manners" ] Sermon "Speaking of God" ] Sermon "Singing New Songs" ] Sermon "Prepare the Way" ] Sermon "Here-ing God" ] Sermon "The Possibility of Possibility" ] Sermon "Sweet Creations" ] Sermon "Not at All Dead" ] Sermon "Planning, Praising and Pondering Palms" ] Sermon "March for Life" ] Sermon "Imagination, Dreams, and Vision" ] Sermon "Following the Magi" ] Sermon "Pushing Christmas" ] Sermon "Forecasts" ] Sermon "Ready for Christmas" ] Sermon "God in the Middle" ] Sermon "The Days to Come, the One to Come" ] [ Sermon "Earthly Healing" ] Sermon "Digesting Communion" ] Sermon "The Change of Prayer" ] Sermon "Unbreakable Body" ] Sermon "Seeing Clearly" ] Sermon "Right for Present" ] Sermon "A Change Agent" ] Sermon "What is Sabbath" ] Sermon "In Memory of Hope" ] Sermon "These Baptisms are Killing Us" ] Sermon "Wanting Prayer" ] Sermon "Last Minute Gifts" ] Sermon "Praying Well = Praying Much" ] Sermon "Peace Repent, Peace Remember" ] Sermon "Choosing Church" ] Sermon "A Model Church" ] Sermon "The Empire Struck Back" ] Sermon "Love is Patient and Primary" ] Sermon "Manifestations" ] Sermon "The Green Grace of God" ] Sermon "Signs of Sacred Things" ] Sermon "A Deal with the Future" ] Sermon "Free from Fear" ] Sermon "To Carry Each Other" ] Sermon " With God in Death; with Each Other in Dying" ] Sermon "Healing Prayers" ] Sermon "Facing God's Miracle" ] Sermon "Finding All Three" ] Sermon "Controlling Christmas" ] Sermon "Finding Jesus" ] Sermon "God as a Baby" ] Sermon "What Does It Mean" ] Sermon "Katrina's New Covenant Call" ] Sermon "Elevate your Expectations" ] Sermon "See: the Healing" ] Sermon "Lifeless Chaos and Living Creation" ] Sermon "Rapt Gifts" ] Sermon "Welcome to Reality" ] Sermon "Offering Up Thanks" ] Sermon "Blue State Blues" ] Sermon "Are we not entitled to thanks?" ] Sermon "Ancient Pieces of Peace" ] Sermon "Noticing Neighbors" ] Sermon "A Summer Day of Renewal" ] Sermon "A New Thing" ] Sermon "Breath of New Life" ] Sermon "Easter" ] Sermon "Sin: Currently Tense" ] Sermon "Why Are You Angry?" ] Sermon "Anxiety over Sin" ] Sermon "A Marriage Grade in Heaven?" ] Sermon "Isn't Marriage Gay?" ] Sermon "Expanding the Body of Christ" ] Sermon "Miracles:  Seeing More in our Midst" ] Sermon "Turning to God" ] Sermon "Why are You in Churchl" ] Sermon "Remember your Baptism" ] Sermon "Every Day Spirituality" ] Sermon "The Cross and Joy of Love" ] Sermon "Welcome Back" ] Sermon "Living Together" ] Sermon "Transforming Destruction" ] Sermon "The Work of Healing" ] Sermon "Peace" ]Back to top