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Sermon - 5 Epiphany

In the Name...


Some university professors were having drinks in their common room and one remarked that he had just translated some inscriptions of Horus.  "Horace, the Roman poet?" queried one.  "No", said the other, "from the temple of Horus, the Egyptian god.”  "Ah," remarked a third, "that's a Horus of another culture."


Back in Texas, I was once visited by a couple of African Pentecostal pastors.  They were looking for places where they might rent space for a mission and someone had recommended they see me, but they decided our building was too far away from the area they wanted to target.  Anyway, in our discussion, we talked about the church in Africa and I was very intrigued by a comment they made about the cultural practice we Americans have of using the title "Doctor" for clergy who have academic degrees - Ph.D.'s, D.D.'s, D. Min's, etc.


They said this was a problem in Africa because when an American preacher visits and calls himself "Dr So-and-so", the village folks flock to him with all their health problems.  The "doctor" then has to try to explain that he doesn't know the first thing about how to treat malaria, AIDS, or even the common cold.  And the people are confused.  They don't understand.  "Doctors" are supposed to heal the sick.


In today’s Gospel, Jesus finds himself in a somewhat similar predicament.  Last week's Gospel showed us that he healed a man possessed by a demon.  Then, from the synagogue, he went, as we just heard, to Peter’s house and there heals Peter's mother in-law who has a fever, and, by that evening, the people of the town have brought to him all who were sick or possessed and he cured the lot.


Then, the next day, very early in the morning, he goes out of town to a secluded spot for some private time.  He'd had a big day, after all, and he needed some quiet time to recollect and reconnect - charge his spiritual batteries.  But as it happens, before he could finish his morning devotions, his disciples track him down and inform him that an even larger crowd has gathered in the town and is waiting for him to do more healings.


Now, we might expect Jesus to say, “Super.  I knew some healings would get people to come out.  Our mission strategy is working.”  But what, in fact, does he say?  “Let's blow this pop stand.  Let's get out of here.  Let's head to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message, for that is what I came to do.”


Proclaim the message?  What message is greater than healing the sick?  Isn’t that exactly what the prophets said the Messiah was going to do?  Isn't that what Jesus himself said when John the Baptist's disciples questioned him?  If you doubt I'm the Messiah, go and tell John that the sick are being healed.   So, isn't healing what Jesus came to do?


Well, yes, but not exactly.  Yes, the prophets said the Messiah would bring healing and, yes, Jesus did tell John's disciples that the miracles were proof of who he was, but the constant theme of both the prophets and Jesus was that his primary task was to bring, as he said, good news.  Good News. 


Last week, the Gospel recorded that people were amazed at Jesus' teaching in the synagogue, but it didn't give us one word of what he actually said.  Elsewhere in Scripture, of course, we do have a lot of what Jesus said so we might draw some conclusions about the sort of thing he said that day. 


To those who had family problems, he may have spoken of a Prodigal Son.  To those concerned their prayers were ineffectual; he told a story about a woman and a judge.  To those who thought their sins are too great to be forgiven, he recalled a manager who owed his master a vast fortune.  To those who worried because they were poor, he assured them of God's providence for even the least of nature's creatures.  In each case, good news.


What Jesus said he came to do, in other words, was to heal our relationships with God and one another and let God reign as king in our hearts.  The fact is that much of the physical sickness, poverty and suffering that exists in our world is the direct result of the state of spiritual disharmony - or Sin, to use a more traditional term -  that separates us from God and from one another, and, even, from ourselves.  The good news of God in Christ is that he brings healing to this root cause of our problems.  But it comes in order of priority.  Spiritual first, then the physical.  As Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things - material concerns - will be given to you as well.”


To ask God for physical healing or material well-being without first seeking peace with God and others is like putting the cart before the horse.  It's self-focused and that's a problem which many people have with their prayer lives.


A fellow went to his priest and asked him to put a three-year old named Giacomo on the Sunday prayer list.  The next week, the priest asked how Giacomo was doing.  "It was a miracle.” the man replied, "He completely recovered - and came in first at 50-1 odds."


The big crowd that came looking for Jesus that morning went home disappointed and confused.  They didn't find him.  Why?  Because they were looking for him for the wrong reasons.  They were looking for Jesus simply to get what they wanted.  They weren't all that interested in what Jesus came to give.


Like the people of Capernaum, we often come to church with our various problems of soul and body.  These are what occupy our minds and we want Jesus to do something about them.  And that’s completely natural.  There's a saying that everybody's surgery is minor, except my own, and that's true.  In Lamentations, the prophet says, "There is no suffering like my suffering" and he speaks for all of us.  It's natural for us to focus on ourselves.  But no wonder, then, we sometimes find that we leave church unfulfilled with our needs unmet.


Physical healing was never an end unto itself in the ministry of Jesus.  It was always an example of greater healings to come.  The motto of my Welsh theological college was "Gorau meddyg, meddyg enaid" - "The best doctor is the doctor of the soul" - and in our English language the words “healing,” and “health” and “wholeness,” - and “holiness” - all share the same root, meaning “full” or “complete.”  We need Jesus not so much to make us well, but to make us whole, complete, holy.


So, how do you know when you have been healed?  Seems like an odd question, doesn't it?  How do you know?  Well, when the pain is gone, when the fever has come down, when the disease is no more. Right?  But the Gospel gives a different answer.  “The fever left her,” we are told of Peter’s mother-in-law, “and she began to serve them.”  She began to serve others and when we're ready to serve others in their needs and focus outside ourselves; that is when we know that we have been healed.  


Jesus' healing comes when we are no longer controlled or distracted by our aches and pains, our hurts and resentments, our feelings of grief or injustice.  Oh, we may still have them, even St. Paul had his, but if they don't control us - and that's the key - if Christ, and not they, rule in our hearts, then we will be made whole in what really matters.  And that is, in any culture, not just good news, it is the best news of all.


In the Name...

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