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Reaching for Healing

Image of an orangy-red sunset reflecting on water with a the silhouette of a woman sitting, facing the sun.

Healing stories are fascinating, let alone the raising from the dead stories. Our 21st Century minds try to rationalize and minimize the power of such accounts. I know I spent years wishing I could touch Jesus garment and be healed from sickness. Truthfully, I’ve also, on occasion, wished Jesus were around to call a person back from death if not grant me the power to do it myself. However, this kind of thing doesn’t happen often in the modern world. Whether or not healing happened the way the Bible tells us it did, we will never know. Today I want to set these questions aside and explore the story of the woman who touched Jesus robe and the girl raised from death in a more metaphoric sense.

Truth be told, I’m not sure if the Church universal is more like the woman with uncontrolled bleeding or the girl Jesus called back from death. If I think of the Church as a whole, the Bodymind of Christ, then I think of the ways in which we are bleeding out. Our strength is being diminished by fear and hatred. White Supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and much more keep us from being healthy and whole. We have bought into the lies of the Empire and it is killing us. It doesn’t seem that we even know we need to reach for the garments of Christ, reach for healing. So many of us are entrenched in protecting tradition and reluctant to change. What happened to seeking Jesus in the midst of the crowd, trusting that we will be made whole?

On the other hand, the more we cling to our nostalgic recollection of the past and our outdated modes of worship and governance, the more we risk sliding into death. The past is not the perfection many of us recall. Church has always been riddled with the wounds of the Empire. When we made our traditions more important than following Jesus, we cut deeper. When we chose to follow social norms instead of seeking Jesus, we became sicker. When we decided who was in and who was out, we laid down on our deathbed. When we elevated our politicians over God’s holy ways, our breathing became labored. Will we hear Jesus call us to new life?

My friends, the Bodymind of Christ is sick, perhaps near to death. Isn’t it time we sought healing, healing that goes deep into the heart of the Church? I’m not under the illusion that all denominations will come together as one, though, if we were honest with ourselves, we might all get a bit closer as we reach for those garments of Christ. Are we as individuals, congregations, and denominations willing to ask the questions that will enable our spiritual hands to reach for those healing robes?

Who is welcome in our congregations and who is not? Who is welcome in our pulpits and who is not? What is essential to embodying Christ in the world today? What is not? What is our primary illness – worshiping tradition? White supremacy? homophobia? transphobia? literal interpretation of scripture? misogyny? other fear? Answering these questions honestly just might stop the flow of blood or enable us to hear the call to new life.

However, recognizing the symptoms of illness isn’t always easy. Ignoring them, though, won’t make us any healthier. Acknowledging that we are unwell is the beginning of the journey toward health. While sickness may weaken us, there is no shame in sickness itself. If we continue to deny the sickness and act as if we are healthy and whole, this is shame; this is sin.

May we repent of our insistence on wellness and denying our sickness. May we have the courage to reach for the garments of grace and listen for the voice calling us to new life. May we be honest with where we are now and where Jesus would rather we be. May the Bodymind of Christ be made well by God’s grace and through our words and actions…

RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – June 27, 2021 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 and Psalm 130  • Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24 or Lamentations 3:22-33 and Psalm 30  • 2 Corinthians 8:7-15  • Mark 5:21-43

Photo: CC0image by Szczecin/Polska

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When Will We Learn

Image of a man in silhouette standing, looking into a night star-filled sky that is tinted with orange, yellow, and pink.

Nicodemus is a familiar character. He was a pharisee who snuck off to talk with Jesus in the middle of the night. I wonder what burning question made him take the risk of being seen with Jesus. All we know is that he went to Jesus and affirmed that Jesus was “from God.” Then the conversation just gets weird. And you know what? The Christian church has never made sense of this strange passage in any useful way.

“Born again” is a phrase that makes my heart beat faster and my blood pressure rise. It’s been used as a litmus test for faith, the “right” faith. Nicodemus didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about and I don’t think many of us understand any better now. The dreaded, “when were you saved?” or it’s alternate form, “when were you born again?” sparks both anger and sadness in me. If I don’t have a dramatic conversion story to share, that means I’m not a true Christian? Why can’t it be a slow growth, a dawning awakening to the power and presence of God in my life? I’m betting that’s how it was for Nicodemus.

Nicodemus recognized something in Jesus that drew him out into the dark of night to have a conversation. Of course, the conversation was quickly out of his hands and beyond his understanding. A person cannot be born more than once. It’s that simple. Or maybe it isn’t. Jesus didn’t think anything about a person’s spiritual life was simple.

I remember Dr. James Loder in a course on human development talking about how the Holy Spirit enters into our lives, breaks through our ego defenses, and shoves our ego off-center. After a while our defenses are a pile of rubble and we can say with Paul, “I, not I, but Christ.” This is what we are after, this union of human spirit and Holy Spirit. It’s slippery and very seldom does the union fully hold after any single experience. Our egos are stubborn and we are wired to think we are at the center of things. When the Holy Spirit pushes our ego enough out of the way, we realize that being at the center of things with Christ is a healthier way to go. Even then, though, we have a hard time holding onto the Holy. We are always human first.

Jesus told the struggling Nicodemus that God so loves the whole of the cosmos that God gave God’s only son so that all who believe might have eternal life. The love is ongoing. Eternal life is communal. We cannot do it alone. In order to bring God’s realm into the here and now, we need one another. We need to be bound together by the Holy Spirit into the Bodymind of Christ, the church re-envisioned for the world in which we live.

Nicodemus made the mistake of thinking that Jesus’ words were literal and meant just for Nicodemus. Many of us have made similar mistakes. We think the words are meant to be taken literally and that they are only for those who share a certain belief. However, God’s love that sent Jesus into the world is a love that encompasses the whole cosmos. It is our belief that allows us to enter into the truth of God’s love. It was never meant to exclude anyone. It was meant to build and strengthen and create beloved community.

As we have observed the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder this week, I wonder when we will set aside our harm-filled interpretations of scripture. I wonder when those who claim the name of Christ will live in love with all neighbors, not just White ones. When will we who claim to have Christ at our center stop living in fearful hatred and demand justice and equality for every human being, without exception?

Jesus said that God loves the entirety of the cosmos. Now is an excellent time to claim this truth and live it into being. No one can truly be a follower of Christ and hate people based on race, religion, country of origin, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, class, ability, health, mental health, or any other aspect of human identity. God loves the entire cosmos. That love sent Jesus to teach us how to love one another. When will we learn?

RCL – Year B – Trinity Sunday – May 30, 2021 Isaiah 6:1-8 and Psalm 29  • Romans 8:12-17  • John 3:1-17

Photo: CC0image by free-photos

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Mental Health Sunday: Toward a New Understanding

Image of black silhouettes of a people’s upper bodies with arms waving against a maroon background filled with pink hearts of different sizes.

In the United Church of Christ, this Sunday is Mental Health Sunday. Many congregations won’t choose to observe it at all, while a few will have Mental Health Sunday at a different point in the year. However, it isn’t something that should be overlooked or avoided. Church can be helpful or harmful, and our history indicates that we have harmed more than we’ve helped when it comes to mental health. Too many people, even in progressive congregations, still believe that mental illness is a punishment for sin, a character flaw, or evidence of insufficient faith. Isn’t it time we tell it like it is? Isn’t it time we end the silence and shatter the stigma surrounding mental illness in our churches?

Jesus said, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (John 17:11-12). He was speaking about his disciples then and now. He didn’t make any distinction among them. And, I’d bet that some of them had diagnosable mental health conditions. Think about Peter and is impulsiveness…

Anyway, Jesus claimed all who followed him as his people, given to him by God. In this prayer during the Farewell Discourses in John’s gospel, Jesus asks God to protect them and create wholeness among them – make them one. I wish this had happened then or was happening now. It isn’t a failure on God’s part to answer Jesus’ prayer. It is a failure on the part of the church to live as we have been called. We make judgments and live in fear, separated one from another when we don’t have to.

In biblical times demon possession and punishment for sin were the only way to understand mental illness. However, we know better now, or we should. Mental illness takes place in the brain. The brains of people with mental illness function differently and some differences are observable in brain imaging. We generally don’t say that cancer or heart disease are a punishment from God, though many might feel this way. We also don’t tend to blame people who are diagnosed with physical illness for their condition. Yet, we do when it comes to mental illness. Why is that?

The simple answer is that we are afraid. We are afraid that it could happen to us. Or we believe the misinformation that is out there that people who have severe and persistent mental illness are violent. Or we are fearful of saying or doing the wrong thing. As a result of our fear and, maybe, some ignorance, too, we remain silent and separated from our siblings who live with symptoms of mental illness. This is where stigma comes from. This is in direct opposition to how Jesus told us we are supposed to live – as one, one whole Body of Christ.

I can’t help but wonder if more people would find welcome in our congregations if we stopped being fearful and started to foster a sense of unity with all of our neighbors. If we endeavored to learn more about mental health conditions and stopped ignoring that 1 in 5 U.S. adults is diagnosed with a mental health condition, how might this change church? Wouldn’t the Body of Christ be healthier if we were to fully embrace all of our members, friends, and neighbors who live with mental illness?

Recently, I’ve learned about the term “bodymind” and I think Jesus would be a fan. Bodymind eliminates the dualism that Western traditions have created. Bodymind is all about the mind and body as a single unit and eliminates the distinction between physical health and mental health. Imagine the Body of Christ becoming the Bodymind of Christ… We would not longer have the option of pretending that mental illness isn’t part of the church. The silence would be broken and the stigma completely shattered, not to mention the sense of wholeness that this understanding could foster…

Isn’t it time that we work together to embrace the unity that Jesus prayed for among his followers? That they may be one… The Bodymind of Christ…

RCL – Year B – Seventh Sunday of Easter – May 16, 2021 Acts 1:15-17, 21-26  • Psalm 1  • 1 John 5:9-13  • John 17:6-19

Photo: CC0image by Pete Linforth