Healing Divides

2 Kings 5: 14-17; 2 Tim 2: 8-13; Luke 17: 11-19

So often when we hear these healing stories within the gospels, the physical healing taking place almost becomes somewhat secondary to the spiritual healing that takes place. They appear to be so intertwined with one another. But it’s not just the physically wounded one that Jesus tries to heal. If you look at it from the perspective of God, healing is not limited to just a select few. It’s what causes so much of the tension with Jesus, that this God somehow seems to go beyond the boundaries that have been set by the people. Only by the grace of God will that begin to fall away and hearts begin to expand.

On the part of Israel and his Jewish brothers and sisters, Jesus tries to break down their image of who they think God is. They were the chosen people and began to believe it on all levels. They thought somehow the grace of this God was somehow limited to them where everyone else perishes. At times they probably felt that they didn’t even need this God; they had it handled on their own. There’s no doubt that there was contention with the Samaritans. That’s our first hint that this is more than just a physical healing that is going to happen. But the Samaritans as well need healing that goes beyond the physical. They were considered outsiders and often less-than-human, especially one suffering from leprosy. There had to be some feeling, for any of us, that this God had somehow abandoned them. So it all sets the scene for Jesus to bring about healing. For one it is a humbling and for another a raising up. How often does our own pride get in the way, thinking we can do it ourselves?

For Israel, as with Naaman in today’s first reading, there is a need for humility. He too had to get over himself. He just constantly fights with Elisha over what is being asked of him in order to be healed. Again, he had this idea of who God was and couldn’t understand why he was being asked to go into the murky waters of the Jordan to be healed. He couldn’t get over that. He was better than that and was insistent that he deserved better treatment from God. He questioned how this could happen to him in the first place, knowing his place. Yet, there was this one thing that he hated about himself that he couldn’t let go of. But Elisha was persistent as well. Elisha already understands the imminent God.

We see it in his response to the gift Naaman tries to give him. Elisha refuses and not because he somehow doesn’t see himself as being worthy of it. Rather, Elisha knows full well that this healing had nothing to do with him. It was all this God who leads Naaman to the murky waters of the Jordan working within and through him. Elisha the Prophet was an instrument of God’s grace and healing. In turn, Naaman comes through the experience a changed man, humbled by a God manifested in a different way, a new way than he ever could have expected. The very thing he hated about himself becomes the fullness of the grace given by God. Naaman finally opens himself up and God steps into his life.

Yet, there must be an openness on our part if we are going to experience such healing in our lives. We live with such division in our city, our country, and our world, with each side claiming to hold the truth. Yet, they’re all wrong. It’s God who reveals the truth. If we are in need of healing with anything beyond the physical, it’s a healing of God. We have a God problem. Using the imagery that Paul uses today in the second reading, our hearts remain chained. When we close ourselves off to the gospel we remain chained. Here he was in his final days of life, in prison, and yet speaks with such freedom. He has allowed himself to be open to the healing power of God, and even for him, persecutor of the Christians, the boundaries begin to fall away and God expands. Paul stands as a witness to us all of the possibility of conversion in our own lives. When we allow ourselves to be opened in that way, we become agents of change. We become agents of healing as he was and as Elisha was in today’s first reading.

In the time of such division with our politics and beyond, we must seek healing. If we feel we don’t need it, then we pray for an openness to it. We are all in need of healing from the divided lives we often live. It will only be through God that we will find such healing, such reconciliation. We can’t survive much longer as a race if we don’t find a way to seek understanding rather than living in fear and allowing our pride to stand in the way. God desires this healing for us now, at this very moment. As we open ourselves up to this healing, we begin to change the world. We become the agents of change. We become the agents of healing. It’s what this city, this country, and this world need now more than ever and God has us primed for such a healing in this very moment of our lives.

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Is It Over Yet?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve about had my fill, plus some, on this election cycle. When I was watching some news this morning all I kept thinking was, “Is it over yet?” It’s a lot like that child in the backseat of a car who perpetually questions whether we’ve reached our destination as the car continues to fly down the highway at seventy miles an hour, seeming endless in sight. Over and over again the question lingers because it just seems to take forever to get there, without an end in sight.

I couldn’t help but to be mindful of the fact, also, that there seems to be no other news that happens during this cycle. All we ever hear about is Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, every now and then Gary Johnson, and who’s going to try to win the duel of berating comments that does nothing more than divide and dredge up people’s most visceral reactions toward fellow human beings. How about the number of people killed in Africa by terrorists groups since the beginning of this year? There seems to be no mention of that in the news. How about the number of people around the globe and here in the States that die for not having adequate food, clothing, and shelter each year? There seems to never be a mention of that. That’s really not news and doesn’t sell to the consumers. No one seems to notice that what we are consuming is eventually going to kill us in some way, or at the least, numb us to the real problems that we face as a country and as a fellow human race. If we want to label anything deplorable, it’s the lack of empathy that we have lost towards our fellow brothers and sisters, so often numbed by screens that we can turn on and off and so often translating over into the way we relate to others.

The lack of empathy is typically the result of deep wounds that we allow to fester within us and typically avoid. This mess we call the presidential election is a good way to avoid that pain and numb it even deeper within ourselves. Now it is one thing to do that on an individual level, but when the collective psyche has been damaged and hurt, it, in many ways, leads to the reality in which we live and often scapegoating others, deflecting our own pain, onto others, often those that don’t have the ability to defend themselves, those without a voice. The people that often need that empathy the most become the villain in the story that unfolds. There’s no better way to avoid our own pain than to project it onto the one that can’t defend, can’t stand up for themselves, and in turn only deepens the wounds of others. The cycle continues. Is it over yet?

I can’t help but to think of the visceral reaction to Colin Kaepernick sitting and then choosing to kneel during the singing of the National Anthem. Whether any of us agree or not, it is the paradox of the freedom for which it stands, that one can make a conscious choice to reject it. There’s a fine line between reverence and turning something into a god. I was reminded of the great Martin Luther King, Jr who had addressed the reality regarding war that speaking is sometimes a “vocation of agony” as he would describe it. Even Scripture reminds us of the voice crying out in the desert. When we can no longer empathize with those who feel they have no voice and those who have often faced pain inflicted upon them, it’s not them that are at fault. It’s us who can no longer see beyond our own political lens that has been inflicted upon us, when demonizing the other is more the name of the game than not. It has nothing to do with money and rights. It has to do with understanding that maybe someone has a different experience that myself, whether because of color, religion, sexuality, or something else that, at times, has brought about suffering. The lack of empathy hinders us from taking a step back and saying to ourselves, maybe we have a problem that I don’t understand, and allow ourselves to reflect, have a change of heart, empathize, for the other, rather than be do quick to judge. Or as our politics likes to do, inflict it upon others.

These are sad days in the life of this country, a country that continues in many ways to reel in the pain of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. We often speak about those days that followed and how the nation had come together as one. It was a golden opportunity for us collectively to step back and begin to look at life differently and discern how we move forward in a positive way, rather than the great divide that has ensued. It was a golden opportunity to reevaluate what is most important to us as a people, hopefully one another and not political jargon that seems to dominate our lives these days. Is it any wonder why people are dissatisfied and disenfranchised by the whole process? When voices are crying out and we choose to ignore, we will undoubtably pay a price in the end, finding ourselves wandering aimlessly in life, looking for direction and purpose. Is it over yet? Maybe then I can finally move on in life and start caring about people as people again, rather than voters, skewed by politics, screens, social media, and talking heads telling me how I should think and feel.

With all that, again, my mantra is simply, “Is it over yet?” As I write this I believe there remains fifty-five days left before the 2016 presidential election. At the moment, neither candidate is appealing in any way. Neither candidate has won my vote. And it’s not even because I have a disdain for anyone, but rather, there’s no future in what is spoken and it seems to simply take you back to middle school playground antics of choosing sides with who might be the cooler kid to hang out with at this moment. There’s no prophetic message in bringing people together. There’s no sense of dream that our nation can move beyond such pain that we experience and allow ourselves to become something new. It’s not about turning back the clock to some other time. All days have passed. It’s about listening to our brothers and sisters, especially those who are hurting, and from the ground up begin to build something new as one people. Otherwise, we are simply left with the weight of another election upon us and people waiting to breathe a sigh of relief that it’s coming to an end.

Is it over yet? It’s all that comes to mind as I sometimes feel sad for what I see and hear, to the point where I need to turn it off and have my sense of humanity restored. There’s nothing like that encounter with the homeless that walk through the front yard. There’s nothing like watching the school kids playing outside during recess. They all remind me of the hope that we should all desire for our future as people and as country, and yet the constant reminder that there are greater needs that need to be addressed. Tearing people apart and destroying reputations sets the “winner” up for failure right from the beginning. If we’ve demonized the other for months on end, how do we ever see that person as leader, as someone who can help move us through the pain to the life that is desired for us rather than the destructive force we have made them into over the year. Quite frankly, there’s too much at stake right now to settle, and for any of us to be reduced to a vote and questioning whether it will ever end.

More Than Meets the Eye

Wisdom 9: 13-18; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14: 25-33

The heart of the readings this weekend really comes from Paul’s letter to Philemon. It’s the only time we ever hear from this letter. It’s most likely the shortest of all of them. It’s also one of the most heartfelt we hear from Paul as he writes on behalf of his friend and brother, Onesimus.

As the reading points out, Onesimus was a slave and at some point had escaped and run away from his rightful owner. In the time of doing that, he not only encounters Paul but he encounters Christ through Paul and now, in the short clip we hear today, he’s pleading on his behalf as Onesimus must now face the consequences of leaving Philemon but he returns in a new way. I’m sure it doesn’t take away the anxiety of the experience of having to return to his master, his owner, but he does return a new man.

His story, though, is also our story. Like Onesimus, we begin to believe everything we want to tell ourselves about ourselves, even in his case, that his whole identity is a slave and this clouds the way he relates to everyone. He sees everything through that lens. Over the course of his time with Paul, Onesimus begins to learn that there is more to himself than just the fact that he is a slave. Now certainly he will return to Philemon remaining a slave, but no consequence, despite his own anxiety, can stand in the way of what he has found in his time with Paul and his encounter with Christ. No, we may never understand Onesimus entirely, but we can begin to think that all we do and all we tell ourselves is true of who we are. Like him we begin to believe that all there is to us is that we’re a priest, or a teacher, or a doctor, or for that matter, mother or father. Yes, they are roles we play. Owner is a role Philemon plays and it too taints his lens in the way he relates to Onesimus. But there’s more to all of us.

Now it is rather bizarre, this gospel we hear today, when Jesus seems to once again throw some strange stuff our way. I got to say, if he were running for president he’d probably have to hire a new campaign manager after the past few weeks! But when he speaks about hating father and mother, brother and sister, he’s not meaning it in the way that we use that word. Even in our families we can fall into our roles, but we know as we get older that even the way we relate to them should change and grow with us. Jesus is gently trying to lead the disciples to this place of context in their own lives, all these relationships in the context of their relationship with him and with God.

Like Paul’s own conversion story, scales often must fall from our eyes and hearts before we can begin to let go of, what Solomon tells us in the first reading today, that which we find within our grasp we find with difficulty. What’s more difficult than the relationships that we encounter in our lives, especially when we can’t move to that deeper place and see the other on a deeper level, through the eternal, in Christ. If you’re going to commit yourself to the relationship to Christ, then you do it with your whole heart. He warns of doing it with half a heart in the telling of these stories today.

Even in our most basic of relationships, we learn to let go of what we think that they should be. It’s again what Paul helps Onesimus discover in his own life, even in the way he relates to himself. He no longer has to see himself as slave, but rather as friend and brother. Paul’s prayer is that Philemon can and will do the same upon the return of Onesimus. Yet, in the end, it no longer matters to Onesimus because he has found the eternal and grows in deepening that relationship with Paul and in and through Christ.

It’s not just the material possessions that we so often need to let go of in our lives. Quite honestly, that’s the easy stuff. There’s so much we have convinced ourselves that we need that not only get in the way of our relationship with Christ but the people around us. The question we so often need to ask ourselves is what and even who is possessing us? That’s the much more difficult question for all of us. All too often we can find ourselves in a relationship like Philemon and Onesimus, thinking we own another and possess them or vice versa. That stands in the way of the eternal. We are possessed by our thoughts, our ideas, our fears and anxieties. They stand in the way of moving to the deeper reality of our lives. We are so often possessed by our should’ve’s, could’ve’s, and would’ve’s. They most certainly stand in the way of encountering the eternal and the deeper reality of our lives.

What and who is it that is possessing us these days? Like Onesimus, we pray for an encounter with Paul, an encounter with Christ in our lives that we can learn to let them go so that we not only grow in our relationship with Christ, but we begin to grow in our relationship with the other, no longer seeing them through the lens we’ve created for ourselves, but like Paul as brother, sister, and friend.