Sermon, July 22

Gospel of Mark 6:30-34, 55-56

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had
done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place
all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and
going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in
the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them
going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all
the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a
great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were
like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and
moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once
recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to
bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And
wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick
in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even
the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
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People were more than inquisitive about Jesus. Many craved wheat
Jesus offered. He taught many things, encouraging things, thought-
provoking things. He taught wisdom in parables. He radiated compassion.
He offered a living, breathing examples of God’s gracious love.
Jesus was known as a healer. Mark’s Gospel tells of people seeking
Jesus out and begging to be healed. God’s healing power was so intense
that even touching the fringe of Jesus’ garment gave healing.
Healing, ancient and modern, is a complex subject. Healing affects
not only one’s physical state, it also affects a person’s emotional and
spiritual well-being. Healing affects our relationships and the ability to
make a living. Healing provides freedom from constraints of all kinds.

In 1 st century Jewish culture, healing meant freedom form stigma and
shame. Remember, any disease was interpreted by 1 st century religious
Jews as a sign of God’s punishment for sins. People inflicted with illness
often were ostracized from community, shamed as sinners, unable to work
for a living wage, and left to God’s judgment.
The healing Jesus offered powerfully impacted people’s lives.
When 2 nd and 3 rd generation Christians heard these stories they, too,
yearned to touch Jesus. Of course, that was impossible. Jesus was no
longer with them in body. Those later generation Christians had to come to
understand Jesus’ touch and healing in broader ways, but no less power.
And, it would do us well to do likewise.
Paracelus is the 16 th century German-Swiss physician and alchemist
establishing the role of chemistry in medicine. He wrote” The main reason
for healing is love.”
Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., is a Clinical Professor of Family and
Community Medicine at UCSF School of Medicine. She is one of the best-
known of the early pioneers of Holistic and Integrative Medicine.
As a medical educator, therapist and teacher, she has enabled many
thoughts of physicians to practice medicine from the heart, and thousands
of patients to remember their power to heal.
Dr. Remen writes: “Healing may not be so much about getting better,
as about letting go of everything that isn’t you – all of the expectations, all
of the beliefs – and becoming who you are.”
Jesus’ healing was nothing less than freedom from constraints and
allowing a person to be their truest self, a beloved child of God.
In September of 1988 I began my internship as a newly ordained
deacon at St. Luke’s Church, Atlanta. It was not long until I found my
ministry niche.

The St. Luke’s 11am Sunday Eucharist was live on local television. At
that time it was a popular and strong alternative Christian voice to the
many influential Southern Baptists and non-denominational churches in
the south.
Upon arriving at the church most Monday mornings, there would be
several messages for me. Those messages came from people viewing me on
the church television broadcast. Many of the messages revealed
desperation. All most all of the messages were from men inflicted with
illness, men with HIV, men dying of AIDS.
You must remember that in the 1980’s HIV was astoundingly
misunderstood. Patients were stigmatized, shamed and considered
untouchable. Ignorance and fear condemned HIV as a result of acting
immorally. Personhood often was stripped away. ‘Those’ disease-ridden
people were looked upon with disgust and pity.
I didn’t know a lot about HIV at the time. I knew it was contagious
under certain circumstances. I had seen some of my friends live with it and
die from it. Truth be told, it scared me. Yet, my purpose was and is to
represent Jesus. My ministry focus was on God’s children who were in pain
– physical, emotional and spiritual. I had the calling and I had the
opportunity to help in their healing.
I returned phone calls and responded to their requests in several
ways. Sometimes we just spoke on the phone. A few times we met together
in restaurants or bars. But most of the time I traveled to a hospital room.
It was not long before I discerned a common, eerie theme: Does God
hate me? I heard many questions, including: “Is God punishing me?” “Is
it true what my pastor and family are telling me? Am I doomed to hell for
being sick?”
Families tried to keep me away from visiting with their loved ones.
But they didn’t succeed. Some patients lying in their hospital bed glared at
me in terror until I removed my clerical collar, extended my hand and
introduced myself by first name only.

I was instructed by medical staff not touch ‘those’ patients only with
gloves on, but I couldn’t do that. I touched them. I touched their hands,
their cheek and their forehead. I knew quite well that I offered the only
human physical contact some of those men received in months.
I wasn’t about to let anyone or anything stop me from sharing God’s
healing love.
For those dying, desperate men healing was not about getting better.
Rather, healing was believing God loves, forgives, embraces and welcomes
all of us as beloved children.
Nothing has the power of separating us from God’s amazing love. It’s
offered to us to freely receive. I believe this with all my heart.
As Dr. Remen suggests, heling is much more than getting better.
Healing is freedom from constraints, constraints such as fear, anger, hurt,
stigma, hatred, shame, greed, selfishness and bigotry. Healing is letting go
and making room for love, contentment and joy. Healing is freedom to be
your truest self. Healing is living and dying with unshakable confidence in
God’s immense love.
You and I have the ability to welcome God’s healing into our lives, if
we choose. You and I have the privilege and mission of being the conduit of
God’s healing for others, if we choose.
God offers healing. The choice to be healed and to be a healer is ours.
– Father John