Thursday, 4 February 2021

A heart made whole - sermon

 

A Heart made Whole.

It can be helpful to place the four gospel writers side by side for comparison. What is Jesus’ first public act in his ministry according to each Gospel? You want to know who Jesus is and not wait until the end of the story? Then take a look at his first public act in each of the Gospels and then ask, “according to that, just who is Jesus anyway?” Matthew? The Sermon on the Mount. Jesus, the amazing teacher! Luke? A well-received sermon in his hometown until people realize to whom he was actually referring when he talked about the poor and the oppressed and try to thrown him off a cliff. John? A sign of God’s abundance. Water into wine 20-30 gallons, filled to the brim, of the best wine.

 

And Mark? In the gospel of Mark Jesus begins his ministry with an exorcism. In the story in Mark 1:21-28 Jesus heals a man who is struggling with a wounded spirit. When I read the story I struggle with the language and the argument between the ‘evil’ spirit and Jesus, but underneath that ancient understanding of mental illness is a deep desire of Jesus to bring health and wholeness to a person in distress and pain. What does that say about Jesus and about God? In Mark, Jesus is a healer. His authority and his holiness is recognized in his desire to bring wholeness and to heal.

 

We live in a world longing for healing. Apart from the obvious Coronavirus epidemic, we look for healing in many ways both traditional and alternative. We seek healing for physical ailments, for mental illness, for our griefs and distress and for a world torn apart by injustice, by war and by environmental destruction. Jesus came into a time when people also longed for healing and in Mark’s gospel he begins his ministry with an exorcism yes, but more so by reaching out to a tortured soul and bringing peace. And this healing is one that makes a statement and the statement is that God is present to us in our pain. Even our brokenness cannot keep us apart from the Divine.

Our brokenness recognizes the face of God as the spirit in this story recognizes God in Jesus. And this spirit also recognizes that it is the will of God to bring wholeness and healing. Jesus sees a broken and painful life and brings health and wholeness.

Jesus the Exorcist seems the only logical first ministry act for Jesus in Mark — not a sermon, not a miracle, but a healing. Jesus steps into the world of other spirits, the potent power of possession and saying, “God is here;” breaking through the barrier that separates us in our brokenness from The divine presence. In the places where we feel God can never be, God is.

Yet, perhaps this sounds good but is rarely believed. You might say say “Preacher, that’s a load of crap. As far as I can tell, God is nowhere to be seen.” And you may have every reason for thinking that. 

To tell you the truth, that is sometimes how I feel.  “Where is God in all that possesses me? in my depression, my addiction, my disease? in my loss, my grief, my sorrow? in my own attraction to other gods?

In the face of everything I understand the disbelief. I acknowledge the doubt. I respect disappointment and despair. Yet, somehow, in the midst of all that, this story of Jesus still faces me with the knowledge that God is here.

I think I love this story.

I think it is at its most powerful when it we see the deep symbolism present. Here is Jesus, in the synagogue (in the church), when into the midst of the church comes someone who symbolizes the reality of all our brokenness and pain. The man possessed of an unclean spirit. And how does Jesus respond? Does he turn his back? Does he try to hide? No, he sees the brokenness for its truth, and he brings new life and wholeness.

And today, here, the movement is the same. We come into the synagogue and we come with our unclean spirits, our pain, seeking wholeness and in our midst somehow is the Christ, moving us towards wholeness and life.

Last week I found this beautiful blessing by Jan Richardson which I think reflects this movement towards wholeness that Jesus lived out and which we are called to in our lives. I love the image she leaves with us of a God who, despite all our struggles and imperfections, somehow ‘dreams us complete’.

I leave this blessing with you.

 

Blessing for a Whole Heart

 

You think

if you could just

imagine it,

that would be a beginning;

that if you could envision

what it would look like,

that would be a step

toward a heart

made whole.

 

This blessing

is for when

you cannot imagine.

This is for when

it is difficult to dream

of what could lie beyond

the fracture, the rupture,

the cleaving through which

has come a life

you do not recognize

as your own.

 

When all that inhabits you

feels foreign,

your heart made strange

and beating a broken

and unfamiliar cadence,

let there come

a word of solace,

a voice that speaks

into the shattering,

 

reminding you

that who you are

is here,

every shard

somehow holding

the whole of you

that you cannot see

but is taking shape

even now,

piece joining to piece

in an ancient,

remembered rhythm

 

that bears you

not toward restoration,

not toward return—

as if you could somehow

become unchanged—

but steadily deeper

into the heart of the one

who has already dreamed you

complete.

 

—Jan Richardson