Healers and Healing
Category: Bishop's Sermons
Speaker: The Rt Rev Mark D.W. Edington
Tags: luke, healing, healers
October 18, 2020 | The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Luke, Evangelist and Physician
The Church of the Ascension, Munich
You might as well know that I am breaking the rules today. I say this because I would never want you to think that I was hiding something from you, or that
I was doing something out of the ordinary without knowing it.
I have already learned that whenever I depart from expectations or norms for a well-thought-out reason, there are many good and helpful eager to make sure I am aware of the fact.
So yes, I am aware that today is the twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, and the twenty-sixth Sunday in ordinary time; I am aware that there are proper readings appointed for this Sunday that we are not hearing today.
Instead, we have just heard read the readings that are appointed for this day, October 18, when this day does not fall of a Sunday; and that is because October 18 is Saint Luke’s day, the feast day of the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Even if you are one of the four gospel writers, your feast day bows in deference to the Lord’s Day when your feast comes on a Sunday.
It is permitted for us to depart from the lectionary for good cause, and with the permission of the bishop. But if you don’t tell him, I won’t, either. What he doesn’t know won’t trouble him.
There is a reason behind my small rebellion, and it is simply this: I can think of no time in my whole life as a Christian when what it seemed we most need is to be healed. Sometimes we need a prophet, and sometimes we need a teacher; but we are so weary, and we are so dis-eased, and we are so distanced and divided from each other.
It is not just our frail bodies that are vulnerable to this disease. It turns out that it is our spirits, our souls, our society that is being injured. Injured by the fear we feel, not just of a disease but of other people. Injured by the hard realization that people we care about deeply see this disease, and the divisions it has caused, differently from the way we see it.
It is as though this moment has reduced us all to our jagged and hard-edged essential selves, and the result is not pretty. The simple grace that lubricates our social interaction seems to have vanished. It is too easy to forget that there are people, all of them children of God, behind those masks, each one of them contending with their own struggles just like we are, to get through these days.
By long tradition, Luke has been known as the bivocational evangelist; we learn of him in Colossians that he was a physician, or at least that someone named Luke who was instrumental in the early church was a physician, and what is more a beloved doctor.
And if Paul the tentmaker was the apostle to the Gentiles, then there is at least some case to be made that Luke was the evangelist to the Gentiles; his account of the life of Jesus is centered not so much on the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy, but on situating the power of Jesus’s life and ministry within the frame of the Roman world.
Of course, the ascription of both gospel and the Acts of Apostles to this same Luke who was a companion of Paul is only a matter of church tradition, and not one based on evidence; indeed, if Luke really is the writer of these works, then however close he may have been to Paul he ends up offering rather different accounts of Paul’s conversion and theology than Paul does.
But my interest here is not to offer a lecture in a course on the development of the New Testament. I want to explore a different question—the connection between the idea of healing and the hope that we have, and that we are called to proclaim, in the good news of the Gospel. How does the healing of this beloved physician actually work? What does it mean? And why don’t we feel healed?
Let’s start here: The good news of the Gospel is what Christ proclaims in the temple: there really is going to be good news to the poor, release to those in prison, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and the promised favor of the Lord.
The good news of the Gospel is that all of the promises of God have been perfectly fulfilled in the life, the ministry, the teaching, the passion, the death, the resurrection, and the ascension of Christ. Not just one part of that; all of it, together, is what makes for this good news, because all of it, together, reveals the power of God’s love to transform our lives..
To say it in a different way, the whole of the story of Jesus—which is, after all, the subject of the Gospels—is the story of one who loved perfectly, who loves as God loves. That love holds within it the power to heal bodies and souls, because it is not merely compassionate love, not merely charitable love, not merely accepting love—it is transformational love.
When Jesus loves people, they get healed. We know that there is a category of accounts about the life of Jesus called “healing miracles”—the daughter of Jairus, or the woman with the flow of blood, or the lame man whose friends let him down on a mat through a hole in the roof.
But of course, the love Jesus shows to people—that perfect reflection of God’s love—heals everyone, in some way, who encounters him.
Nicodemus, in that moment when he has the humility to ask—how can these things be?—is healed of his arrogance.
The woman caught in adultery, who is saved when Jesus confronts her accusers with the reality of their own mistakes, is healed of her rejection—and her accusers are healed of their self-righteousness.
Thomas is healed of his doubts, by the physicality of Jesus’s bodily resurrection. The disciples who deny and desert him are healed of their cowardice, by the gift of the Holy Spirit.
And we are healed, too. But for us, we who are the living Body of Christ in the world today, for us Christ’s healing love is mediated to us through the agency, the work, the words, the actions of these people around us. This is the risen Christ that heals us, this community, these people, and all of the people to whom we are bound together in baptism as sisters and brothers in Christ.
But here is the problem. Jesus was the perfect reflection of God’s love to everyone he encountered. But we are imperfect.
Each one of us, of course, we probably have a pretty good sense of our own imperfections. And God knows we often have a very, very clear idea of other’s imperfections. At least when you add all of us up together, our strengths begin to compensate for most of the weaknesses. When we work together, and especially when we work together as a church connected to other churches, we get closer and closer to that ideal expression of God’s way of love in the world.
But we are still imperfect. We can heal a lot of hurt, a lot of illness, a lot of brokenness, a lot of sorrow.
But we cannot heal it all.
In these past days someone close to our community, someone known to many of us and deeply loved for his gifts of artistry and community-building, decided to take into his own hands the gift of life God had given to him. And of course those of us who knew him, who loved him, are asking ourselves: What might we have done? What did we miss? Why didn’t we see?
But that is the wrong question, really. Asking it presumes that we have achieved perfection as agents of God’s transforming love. That is beyond us.
We are meant to be the mediators of God’s transforming love to each other, and the world around us, as the Body of Christ. But even at our best, we are only imperfect vessels. In the end, the best news of the good news is that God did not merely give us an example of a life lived in perfect love and then leave it to us.
And so what our imperfect love cannot heal, we entrust to God’s perfect love, which heals all the brokenhearted, and binds up all wounds.
We know this time will come to an end. We know this long season that began in Lent will eventually be an Easter of reconnection, and regathered communities, and restoring our touch, and our sight.
But have no doubt that how we enter into that world when the dawn finally comes will have a lot to do with how we treat each other now, with how we find ways to connect across the distance. The healing love we can offer now, to each other and even people beyond our community, is real; and we must not forget that we are still disciples, even if we are distanced.
God’s transforming love looks more like compassion than correction. God’s transforming love looks more like mercy than power, more like sharing the load than bearing it all alone.
So that is what we are called to do, even if we do it imperfectly. Because even our imperfection will finally be healed by the perfect love of God. Amen.