Healed and Healing

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Community Eucharist

Read the full text of the sermon here: 

In the first reading, we hear how God promises to put his own words in the mouths of prophets, and we know from scripture that there have been such people. There have been, and still are a few men and women who speak with the authority, with piercing truth, and the love that is beyond what an ordinary human being might be capable of. Their words come from God.

In Jesus, we see that Word of God and the words of God in their most concentrated form. Those words have power and in today’s readings we see how they especially have the power to heal.

Jesus sees a man from Capernaum, but right here, at the very beginning of the interaction, I think the healing begins. Jesus SEES the man. How often to we look at a person without really seeing? How often do we move among others, longing to be seen?

A few years ago, there was a independent film called “Time Out of Mind,” about a man dealing with being homeless and the various challenges he encounters. The film stars Richard Gere, and I remember Gere talking about preparing for the role. In addition to being a long time volunteer with NYC’s Coalition for the Homeless, Gere sat outside in old clothes in popular public places and was totally ignored. He was dodged and avoided. He would notice people notice him, and then walk a farther way away.

It may be that we do this a little more often these days, as we hear in the news about people with mental illness pushing others off subway platforms. But even when we avoid others, we should still notice it as an aberration, something that should not be.

Jesus SEES the man from Capernaum. Jesus sees everyone he encounters. He takes time, he notices, and I have to think that part of the healing begins to happen just in his gaze, in his noticing, in his ability to be present and connect. It’s something we should pray for, even as we give thanks that we’re always in the gaze of Christ.

After Jesus sees the man in today’s Gospel, he commands silence. Jesus sees the confusion, noise, and chaos that the man is living in. Jesus says to the demons that are buzzing around him, “Be silent.”

Sometimes there is healing just in the silence. Life is noisy in our world, and sometimes when we begin to get lonely, when we begin to get bored, when we begin to get restless…we add to the noise. Even in quarantine, it can get noisy—with news, with worries, with long, unending lists of “shoulds.” Jesus calls for silence, and there is healing in silence.

I remember years ago when I was busy, busy, busy in New York and went for a weekend retreat up at Holy Cross Monastery. Though I took the train up, I think I took the city with me. As soon as I got there, I was writing in my journal, making lists, praying that God would help me arrange all the various questions I thought I needed to sort out. But I had been there only an afternoon, when the quiet of the place, the silence all around me was almost deafening. All that night, I was distracted by the silence, afraid of the silence, threatened by the silence. Though I’d planned to stay the whole weekend, I gave up Saturday morning and came back into the city, realizing that at that time, I simply could not be still or quiet.

In the early Church, especially around the Fourth Century, there were those who found the cities too loud. And so, they moved into the desert, in search of silence and in search of God. But guess what they found? Like me at the monastery that weekend, these early desert mothers and fathers found demons, even there.

Saint Anthony, who many revered for his courage and faithfulness and wisdom, found demons, too. In his Life of St. Anthony, Athanasius describes Anthony’s war with demons:

To serve God more perfectly, Anthony confined himself in a ruin, building up the door so that none could enter. Here demons assaulted him furiously, appearing as various monsters, and even wounding him severely; but his courage never failed, and he overcame them all by confidence in God and by the sign of the cross.

The demons were not external. They weren’t in other people or institutions or powers or principalities. They were inside Anthony, deep down. A classic saying from the Desert Fathers has a seeker who wanders from a city into the desert in search of wisdom, and the seeker finds Abba Moses. He says to the old man, “Abba, Father, give me a word.” And the old man looks at him and says, “Go and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.” But Jesus comes to Anthony. Jesus comes to the person from Capernaum. Jesus comes to all of those who are in silent places, even to those noisy places and he says to the demons, “come out.”

Jesus sees. Jesus makes silence, and then Jesus calls the demon out. He names it, or them.

The Good News is not only that we can receive this healing from God in Christ. But also, there is good news in that we are (all of us) are invited into Christ’s ministry of healing. We can cooperate in our own healing and we can support in the healing of others.

I should say a word about what I mean by “healing.” Often, we think of healing as the same thing as a cure, and that can be the case. But sometimes healing involves accepting one’s limitations, especially as one grows older and the body changes. Healing might mean aging with a certain amount of grace, rather than living in a world of regrets or memories of times past. Healing might mean the hard work of ongoing progress—the kind that might feel like two steps forward, three steps backward. Healing can take time. And then, of course, sometimes healing comes in the form of what St. Francis called Sister Death—after a long illness, after suffering, Sister Death can be a welcome friend, leading us home to God.

In all these ways, we can be healed and we can participate in the healing process.
When it’s safe, when we can, we can offer that give of recognition—of really seeing another person for who she is, for who he is. Not who we wish they were. Not who they might be, but who they really are. Trying to really see means that we resist judging; that we don’t diagnose the other person’s problem, that we don’t prescribe before we really have all the information.

Then, we can enter the silence: sometimes by keeping silence, and other times by gently suggesting that other voices and distractions be turned down. Being with another person in silence means that we enter a place of prayer with another person—sometimes with that person, and sometimes at great distance from the person. But in the silence, we offer our friend to God, for God’s love, for God’s presence, and for God’s healing.

And then, perhaps (PERHAPS) we may be nudged by the Holy Spirit to speak a word. The word we speak may be to encourage our friend to talk with a therapist, a counselor, a minister, a doctor… to get help by someone who is trained to help. But sometimes we also may be called to speak a word that becomes a word of healing. Jesus called the evil spirits out—“Come out of him,” Jesus said. And in a similar way, sometimes we call a person into life again, into a new perspective, into relationship, into community, into the love of God.

In the formal healing rite of the Church we are reminded,

the Almighty Lord, who is a strong tower to all who put their trust in him, to whom all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth bow and obey:[Becomes] now and evermore [our] defense, and makes [us] know and feel that the only Name under heaven given for health and salvation is the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thanks be to God that we can see and be seen. We can be silence and be in silence. We can heal and be healed. May the Holy Spirit move mightily within us, in spite of us, and around us into a needy world. Amen.

 

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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