"Becoming A Healing Presence"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - September 10, 2006
James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37
She humbled herself before him. She was anxious about her daughter who was extremely ill. A person of Jesus’ notoriety could not be hidden. Even though the two had never met, she knew about his spirit and his ability to bring healing into people’s lives.
After telling Jesus about the illness of her daughter, Jesus tested her sincerity. In essence he said, “I am a rabbi whose purpose is to guide the Jews. It would not be fair for me to give food that I intend to give to them and feed it to dogs.” She knew about the long-standing dislike of her people by the Jews.
Remarkably, she did not take offense because she had sensed the spirit behind his words. It was not Jesus’ intent to be callous or cruel. He wanted to see how she would respond in light of such longstanding tensions between their ethnic groups. Without the slightest reticence in her voice she said, “Even the dogs under the table can eat the leftovers.” No doubt, Jesus broke into a smile. Her response indicated that no matter what Jesus said, she still trusted him implicitly. Jesus said, “When you go home, you will find that your daughter is well.” Indeed, she was.
The second healing was a person who lived in the silent world of the deaf community. He could neither hear nor speak. Jesus and the man removed themselves from the crowd and while they were alone, he healed him.
When we read such passages in the Gospels, we tend to focus on the physical aspects of Jesus’ healing touch. His presence, however, represented far more than his abilities to restore health. In our lesson we read, “Everyone who listened to his words was completely amazed. ‘How well he does everything!’ they exclaimed.”
Jesus’ presence was magnetic. He drew people from every walk of life, every geographical region, even Gentiles like this woman from Syria. His bedside manner was amazingly comforting. His presence instilled confidence and peace. When he invited us to follow him, he was inviting us to share these qualities with other people who live within our circles of influence.
This morning I would like for us to consider our healing presence among others. What is the chemistry that we bring to our relationships? Thus far, what have we made of our lives? Are we just hanging in there? Do we consider ourselves living one day at a time? Are we merely surviving or are we enthusiastically thriving? What are we contributing among those with whom we live? Are we growing in our healing skills or are we exhibiting the same level of energy as we have for the last ten to fifteen years?
As we return to our lesson, the first skill we find in Jesus was his accessibility. People came to him constantly, and, for that one brief moment in time, that person was the only presence in Jesus’ universe.
Some of us have experienced the skills of people who have taken time management courses. Students of such courses have become driven and defined by their tasks. There is no doubt that all their tasks can be accomplished in a far more timely fashion by the formulas they have learned but at what cost to their relationships?
What have we experienced from people who are being driven by their tasks? Such an experience may make us feel as though we do not matter. However, when we come into someone’s presence and they make us feel as though we are the only person in their world, it is the most healing and comforting feeling in the world.
Some years ago, Lois and I were attending a New Year’s Eve party with members of our Sunday school class. Suddenly, Tom Soliday’s beeper went off. For you younger generations, beepers were used long before cell phones. Tom is an oral surgeon whose presence was immediately required at the Washington Hospital Center. From his subsequent telephone conversation, I learned that there had been a motorcycle accident. He had to rebuild the face of a young woman. I heard him ask, “Does anyone have a picture of her? Please have them bring it to the hospital as soon as possible.”
Tom said, “Dick, I have to go. I’m on call tonight and this is what I do.” There was no remorse in his voice, no regrets, no “I can’t even celebrate the New Year with my friends.” He simply left the party and spent many hours in the operating room restoring a young woman’s face.
There is a magical moment when we stand in the presence of someone who needs us. It is a time when everything else in our current experience can suddenly be put on hold. Nothing becomes more important than the person standing there. The world will go on whether we are completing all of our tasks perfectly or not. One moment with another person can represent a time when healing energy can be exchanged.
If we think Jesus did not practice this, think again. Word had reached Jesus that his good friend, Lazarus, was dying, and yet he delayed going to his bedside because of the needs of others. Lazarus died, an experience that made Jesus cry. Both Mary and Martha said, “Had you been here, our brother would not have died.” We do not know what chain of events will follow when we give our undivided attention to those in front of us. Jesus delayed because of the needs of others. Yet, as we recall the story, a greater event took place. Lazarus’ life was restored.
In addition to accessibility, Jesus showed compassion. The woman found him during his brief vacation. Yet, her story and her need were so compelling that Jesus compassionately extended healing to her daughter. When we demonstrate compassion, our response is remarkably healing.
Tomorrow, our country will experience the anniversary of an extremely painful chapter in our nation’s history. There were four known aircraft that were destined to achieve one purpose – to destroy, to hurt, to maim and to evoke terror in the citizens of the United States. We can only pray for people who have interpreted their own twisted hatred as an aspect of God’s Will.
What was healing for most Americans was the sight of the men and women who did not cry “Holy War!” as though each of us needed to strike back in some form of revenge. Rather, they lined the streets of New York giving encouragement to the police and fire fighters who were streaming into Manhattan to save those who were still stranded in the Trade Towers.
We remember the people who immediately brought food and water to those who fought the relentless fires that resulted from the Pentagon being hit by a third aircraft. We remember the compassion of people who wanted to spare America any more losses. They stormed the cockpit, preventing their aircraft from striking yet another intended target. In so doing, they willingly surrendered their lives. Their flight crashed in a field amid the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. How wonderful it was to find Americans displaying compassion for those hurting rather than hatred toward some invisible enemy.
After listening to the woman, Jesus spoke with compassion, “Go home and when you arrive, you will find your daughter well.” When we show compassion, regardless of the circumstances, we are giving our greatest gift – our time to surround others with our empathy and caring.
The woman was distracted. She could not feel anything other than her immediate need. She was reaching for understanding, support, healing and compassion. What is the cost other than possibly some inconvenience when our presence may bring healing?
Some time ago a little girl emptied her jelly jar of coins she had collected through the years. She slipped away from her home quietly in the early afternoon and entered a Rexall Drug store six blocks away. She waited at the counter for the pharmacist to pay attention to her, but he was lost in conversation with a businessman. She could tell that the other person was important because he was dressed in a suit and was wearing a white shirt and a tie.
She did everything to gain the attention of the pharmacist, but being a child, he did not pay any attention to her. Finally, she intentionally spilled all her coins on the counter, an act that made considerable noise. The distracting sound got the attention of the pharmacist. With annoyed tones he asked, “What is it that you want?” Tess said, “I want to talk to you about my brother. He is very sick. I want to buy a miracle for him.”
He said, “I beg your pardon.” She responded, “His name is Andrew. I heard Mommy and Daddy talking. He has something growing in his head and I heard my Daddy say that only a miracle would save his life. I don’t know what that is but I am here to buy one.” With a profound change in the tone of his voice he said, “I’m sorry Honey, but I don’t sell miracles.”
She hastily responded, “I have the money to pay for it. If this isn’t enough, I’ll get more.” The pharmacist looked down at the counter and saw lots of pennies, nickels and dimes. He did not know what to say. She was one determined little girl.
The other man stooped down and spoke to her at her eye level, “What kind of miracle does your brother need?” Tess said, “I don’t know. He needs an operation and my Daddy can’t pay for it, so I want to use my money to buy one of these miracles.” “Well,” said the well-dressed man, “how much do you have there?” With a great deal of pride she said, “I have exactly one dollar and eleven cents.” He said, “Wow! That’s a lot of money for a little girl. Do you know what? Would you take me to meet your brother and your parents? I want to hear more about the kind of miracle your brother needs.”
The two walked the six blocks to the little girl’s home. The worried parents answered the door and were shocked to find their daughter in the company of a strange man. They immediately thought the worst. They thought something horrible must have happened. They had not been aware that she had left their home.
The strange man introduced himself. He said, “I am from Chicago and have been visiting my brother who is the pharmacist at the Rexall Drug store down the street.” He told them how Tess had come into the store to buy a miracle. He said, “My name is Dr. Carlton Armstrong, and I am a neurosurgeon.”
After receiving some additional details about their son’s tumor, Dr. Armstrong made arrangements for the family to travel to and reside in Chicago for the procedure. The operation was extensive but entirely successful. Dr. Armstrong told them that their son would recover completely.
Some weeks later a bill for the surgery arrived in the mail. The hearts of both Mom and Dad sank because they knew they could not possibly pay for all that they had experienced, plus the cost of the pre-op tests, the hospital room, the operating room, the anesthesiologist and the surgeon.
As Tess’ parents opened the envelope, the total bill was for $1.11 cents. They both realized that there had to be some accounting error. Tess assured them, “No, Daddy, there is no mistake. I will take care of this bill from my savings. I promised the doctor that I would pay for everything.” It was then that her Mom and Dad realized that a miracle had just visited their family.
Many of us will find that when God’s will is done in our personal circumstances, it has to do with two qualities: our accessibility and our compassion. We may not have the skills that we think we need to bring healing. Most of us seem to dwell more on our flaws than celebrating our skills at extending love presence.
During such moments, however, perhaps all we need to do is show up and have the faith that God will take care of the details. This is what it means and this is what it looks like to walk with faith. Never let fear tell you that something is impossible. Show up compassionately in every circumstance and watch how quickly miracles happen.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Eternal and always loving God, we enjoy these reflective moments. They often empower us to be more than we could imagine. We often dwell on our flaws. We forget that such thinking is like judging the vastness of the ocean by the frailty of its foam. Help us to be more gentle and patient with ourselves. Help us to remember that we are products of your divine wisdom and thoughtfulness. Like all other life forms, you placed within us everything we need to bloom with unique beauty and usefulness. Help us to understand, O God, that our responses more accurately reflect what we believe, than do the words of faith that we speak. Lead us to find ways to extend ourselves with a healing presence, so that others might discover what they may have forgotten -- their wholeness. Amen.