"When Being Healed Is All We Want"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - January 27, 2002

Isaiah 9:1-4; Matthew 4:12-25

     I would like you to go back in time to a point where there were no medical doctors and no pharmacies on the earth.  Go back to a time when medicinal products were more like home remedies and when very few people knew anything about prevention, treatments, or cures. 

     Imagine a time when a burst appendix would go undiagnosed.  Friends only knew how to keep ill people intoxicated with strong wine to help ease the pain until death came as a welcomed friend.  Imagine a time when if severe complications occurred during the delivery of a baby, the midwives had little they could do but stand by helplessly until the baby, mother, or both died. 

     While living in such an environment what would happen if the word began to spread that a healer had emerged from the town of Nazareth?  A very natural thing would occur.  Everyone who heard of him would do everything in their power to bring those whose bodies no longer radiated with the health they once possessed.  Most, if not all of us, would come to him in droves. 

     Our Gospel lesson today describes such an occasion.   

Jesus went all over Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the Good News about the Kingdom, and healing people who had all kinds of diseases and sickness.  The news about him spread through the whole country of Syria, so that people brought to him all those who were sick, suffering from all kinds of diseases and disorders:  people with demons, and epileptics, and paralytics -- and Jesus healed them all. 

     We might imagine the chaotic scene that unfolded wherever Jesus went. The sensational nature of his presence, as the Scriptures suggest, brought people from far and wide.  This aspect of our awareness has not changed very much.  Not only are we curious beings, but we can also engage in impulsive behavior if we judge something as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

     I remember some years ago on George Washington's birthday, retailers would frequently advertise that eight state-of-the art computers were on sale for $10. each.  First come first serve.  Occasionally, auto dealerships would sell a previously owned vehicle for one dollar.  People started lining up days ahead of time to capture one or more of these bargains. 

     Several weeks ago, I learned that there is a small group of people who are already camping in front of a movie theater where the first tickets will go on sale for the next installment of Star Wars.  The movie is scheduled for release some time this spring.  People are people and when they want something bad enough, they generally go to any lengths to achieve it. 

     Even here at St. Matthew's, it is not uncommon to find parents lining up at our door at 4:00 a.m. on the first day when parents can register their children for our preschool.  Our Director, Mary Nielson, has tried to reassure them that our school will be able to accommodate them, but they want certain hours, during specific days, with one particular teacher.  They come anyway to stand in line while the rest of us sleep.   

     We know there were times when Jesus was overwhelmed.  We remember the occasion when a woman who had hemorrhaged for 12 years said to herself, "If I just touch the hem of his garment, I will get well."  She did and was healed. The Gospel of Mark tells us, "At once Jesus knew that power had gone out of him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothing?" (Mark 5:30).  The disciples asked, "How can you say such a thing?  Look at the size of this crowd. Everyone is touching you." 

     There are enough Biblical references for us to imagine that Jesus could have spent his entire ministry just healing people.  In the early phases of Jesus' ministry, healing is what brought the people to him.  That is what they wanted. 

     It is very easy for us to take this same step ourselves.  We frequently come to God as part of our crisis management.  We have a massive decision to make.  We are waiting for the result of the MRI or a biopsy.  We are going for the new job interview.  During the agonizing days and weeks of waiting, we attend church every week.  We pray during every available opportunity.  We look for signs.  Most of us are very familiar with this routine because we have been there.   

     Suppose God more than met us half way. We make the "big" decision.  The medical tests are negative.  We get the job.  Of course, we give God  the praise.  What then?   Some of us go on with life.  We slide back into our routines because the crisis is over.  Then someone sees us in a department store and we say:  

I know, I haven't been to church in months.  I know I'm bad, but Sunday is the only day when I can catch up on everything I've let slide.  (Pause) You know -- I really don't know many people at church.  And so often the worship experience doesn't do much for me.  But I'm doing fine.  I really am.  Thanks for asking. 

     When we get what we want, our tendency is to be happy. Happiness has become our goal in this generation.  It is as if we are saying to God, "Thank you so much for all you have done for me, I can take it from here."  Sometimes there is no growth, no internal changes, and life fairly well tracks almost exactly as it did before "the crisis."  

     It is very clear from the Gospels that this is not what Jesus intended with his ministry.  Healing was a by-product; it was not the message.  We run with our healing as though it were a vast treasure, but we only enjoy it for a very brief time.  Failing health and challenging circumstances always return.  And this "happiness" we enjoyed is based on "good things" happening to us.  

     If we look at our lesson today, Jesus' mission on earth took one verse to describe:  "Jesus went all over Galilee teaching in the synagogues, preaching the Good News about the Kingdom." Yet the verses that follow go on and on about his healing ministry, an experience that was immediate, miraculous, and gratifying for those who experienced it.  

     How easily we settle for wanting to regain our creature comforts. And we honestly accept them as gifts from God. We have a better job.  We are now in a more creative and fulfilling relationship.  We are convinced that Jesus is there when we need him. We received our healing.  And how happy we have become. 

     When we look at such experiences, it should come as no surprise that every one of them benefited us, served us, healed us, and made us happy.  Of course, we have not done a thing to make the world any different, but we are just fine, thank you very much!  This kind of response should give us pause.  Is a vital and essential life based on what comes to us?  For thousands of years, this is what gave purpose and meaning to the lives of billions of people. 

     Whatever became of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus' garment?   We already know what happened to nine of the ten lepers.  What happened to most of the people Jesus healed?  We can assume that they faded into the communities from whence they came.  The Scriptures give little evidence that any of them made any contributions to Jesus' ministry. We simply do not know. 

     The truth is that Jesus was the only person living in the Kingdom.  All those being healed had been touched by one single life that had become empowered through his God-consciousness.  Jesus invited us to follow him so that we could be like him.  (Matthew 10:1) So the question comes, do we want to settle for being healed, or do we want a healing spirit to radiate from us? There are definite result areas that will come from either choice.  Let me give you an example of someone who made that choice.  

     When I attended seminary, ordained women in the United Methodist Church were scarce. None were ordained with me and most women in my class were studying to become Directors of Christian Education. It took a while for congregations to realize that women are as capable as men at being good pastors. Through the years, many of my sisters in ministry have paid dearly emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually by absorbing the shock waves from being the first to pave the way for those who would follow.  

     One of them quite literally entered into an emotional minefield during one of the early appointments in her career.  The congregation to which she had been assigned strongly resisted her coming because she was a woman.   An interesting aspect of this experience was that many women in this church were among the most vocal. 

     People were acting out in very painful ways.  They took their marriage ceremonies elsewhere.  They did not want her to baptize their children.  They withheld their pledges.  Some left the church.  People did not attend meetings.  She found it challenging to fill the chairs of the numerous councils and committees.  Some did not come to the door when she came to their homes to visit. The church family was in the early stages of self-destruction.   

     Kathy did not pray to have her hurts and wounds healed.  She summoned the courage to invest herself in loving her people. Her challenge was to refuse to internalize their attitudes.  Their anger was not being directed at her personally. They did not know her. Their hostility was aimed at the idea that a woman had been appointed to serve their church.  They grew very cynical and speculated about "conference politics." The healing of her people, however, began during one fateful week.    

     There was an automobile accident.  Three children were killed along with their mother.  The woman's husband and their infant daughter were not in the car.  Pastor Kathy had the memorial service.  The church was filled with people.  Folks were seated in the narthex while numerous others were standing in the side aisles. Then it happened. Kathy stood in their midst and allowed her spirit to radiate through her words and insights.  Those assembled cried, laughed, and celebrated God's gift of life.   

     For the first time collectively, members of the community and people in that church family began to realize that the gender of the pastor did not matter.  Kathy's spirit was healing them and compassionately leading them through their grief.  Following that service the pettiness, the frustrations, and the smoldering resentments faded almost as quickly as they had come.  The congregation moved forward in their journey together.  One person who had chosen to follow Christ had healed them.  Think about what it means to follow Christ. 

     Jesus wanted us to be healers and communicators.  He wanted us to embody hope so that everyone else could be encouraged.  He wanted us to give rather than seek.  He wanted us to stand strong in ugly circumstances so that our character would show.  He wanted us to be models and leaders skilled in integrity, compassion, and generosity.  We cannot be these things if all we want is to be healed.  We can only reveal such a spirit when we are giving ourselves away.

     The physical world has taught people how to want, and need, and desire, and struggle, and seek, and compromise, and grasp, and fear, and horde, and judge, and gossip, and hurt.  When someone in the Kingdom stands in the midst of such a world, she can command the winds and the tumultuous seas to be calm, and it will be so.  It is to this calling that Jesus beckons each of us.  

     It is so easy to grab at healing and completely miss Jesus and his message.  Many got what they wanted and their pain left them for a while.  Only a few, however, went on to change the world because that is what Jesus had asked them and us to do. 

     Let us remain strong in our resolve to live in that Kingdom.  When we do, the healing of our bodies and circumstances is often the by-product.  However, we communicate who we are by what we give away, not by what we have received.   


     There are times, O God, when we enter our worship experience wondering why we have come.  We have a habit of weaving a cocoon around ourselves.  We become so preoccupied with a life-issue that we cannot appreciate the blessings that surround us.  Help us to accept what we cannot change.  Shatter the barriers we have created so that we become givers and healers.  May our gratitude for what we have, overshadow the frustration from what we lack.  Continue to encourage us to be willing instruments of peace.  As we remain in harmony with you, teach us how limitless our possibilities are when we work together.  Amen.


     Loving and always-present God, we thank you for calling us to be more than we ever thought we were capable of being.  Your Son called us "the salt of the earth."  He said, "We are like light for the entire world."  There are many times that we do not feel that way.  We confess that far more often we are the ones who stand in the need of prayer.  We are the ones who need healing.  We are the ones who come seeking the courage to go on when circumstances appear intolerable. 

     How easily we forget that people needing and seeking him frequently overwhelmed Jesus. The authorities sought him in order to argue with him, to catch him in a trap so they could accuse him.  Another came under the cover of darkness to seek his wisdom.  Another wanted to sneak up behind him so she could touch the hem of his garment.  Mary and Martha scolded him because had he been more prompt in coming to Bethany their brother would not have died.  Yet he went on loving people and it showed. 

     And as we come seeking him, may hear again his request that he would much rather we follow him.  He would rather we give away our gifts as he had taught us.  So today, O God, we come desiring to be that salt of the earth and that light set on a hill.  Enable our church family to be a source that attracts, heals, and then sends forth.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .