Toorak Uniting Church

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A healing community

Matthew 9: 35 – 10: 8   Genesis 18: 1 – 15
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
10:15 am, 12 June 2005

Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.

In the history of interpretation of the text we read this morning from Matthew, there is a tendency to sweep these words of Jesus, this commission to his disciples under the carpet. Almost from the very beginning they have been words that have caused feelings of discomfort and unease in those who read them and have called for all sorts of attempts to interpret them away into a safe distance.

Well, at least that’s what I suddenly realised when I looked at them this week. Wonderful sermons have been given on the travelling and teaching of Jesus around Synagogues, his healing of the sick, his proclaiming of the good news. Wonderful homilies have taken shape around his compassion, and the harassed and helpless sheep without shepherd he sees when he looks at his people. Whole missions have been built on the text about the harvest being plentifull, and the labourers being few. And even now I bet many hearts will start to beat faster at the prospects of those fields ready for harvesting, the sheep that need shepherding, the proclaiming of the good news to God’s people. And I could preach a very inspiring uplifting sermon on that today: How we should go out and be those shepherds and try to bring that harvest in. How our zeal should increase, how we should go out and labour, get our act together and work for the coming of the Kingdom in this world and the bringing home of all lost sheep that are in need of shepherding.

Then we would all be able to go home satisfied: a stimulating message, some rousing hymns and yes, let’s bring them in!

However.

3 verses further on and things get a little bit more complicated and challenging than that, believe it or not.

First of all the disciples are explicitly told not to go to gentiles or Samaritans, but to start with their own people, the house of Israel. It is there they have to start, and not even with converting them to the true faith mind you, but to cure the sick, to raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons.

Perhaps we should go home at this point. Because that sounds like something really difficult for us to be following up on in this place and at this time.

Perhaps there is a way out? There must be! This can’t be serious, it’s asking something we are not capable of. And even if we were capable, it is not our business. We got doctors for healing the sick, we know the dead don’t rise once they’ve given their last breath, lepers are fortunately not readily available to us and since the invention of psychology we all know demons don’t exist. So……..

It was another time back then, people didn’t understand illness the way we do, there was a lot unscientific about what people thought about curing people, and a lot of what Jesus and his disciples did had probably to do with what we would call psycho somatic illnesses anyway, and that’s easy to cure isn’t it, we all know that!
And raising the dead, well they probably often got the diagnosis wrong, they must have, nobody comes back, well except Jesus that is…..
And lepers, by cleansing they probably meant performing some ritual, because once you’ve got it, it is fairly impossible to get rid of….
And the demons? Ach, a century ago people in our world used to believe in demons, we call them depression now, or multiple personality disorder, or schizophrenia or bipolar and we all know how to cast these out…..

To think that we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, would be called, to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons is just too absurd. How can we?
But perhaps it was only then, and only the twelve, and only for a limited time. That would get us off the hook, wouldn’t it?

In the other, very beautiful story we read this morning, there is somebody who can’t help herself laughing: The thought is just too absurd. A ninety year old with a baby. Come on! She hasn’t had a period in years! And as for Abraham, well, things don’t work as well with him as they used to either….

However, as the story tells us, it does happen, a year later there is again laughter in the house of Abraham and this time not from unbelief but from sheer and unrestrained joy at the birth of a healthy baby boy.

With God nothing is too wonderful.

But with us some things are, we are ordinary people, leading ordinary lives, we do our bit, but this is really a bit much to ask.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful though, if we could? If we could cure and heal and make whole. If we could go out and make a real and significant difference to those we meet who are in need? If we could take away illness, lift the veil of death, cleanse away what is eating away at some of our lives, move some of our modern demons out of those around us?

It would, and I would like to maintain, here this morning, that we can, that we should and that we are called, like the disciples 2000 years ago, to do so.

I know people and perhaps you have known them too, people who, usually because they have been through a lot in life and know difficulty from the inside out, have a presence about them, something that makes them special. People who somehow radiate wisdom, warmth and compassion. People with a peace inside them that will spill over to you when you meet them and make you feel better, even if you weren’t feeling too bad to start with.

My grandmother was such a person, but I have also met others, throughout the years, in my congregations and outside them. Special people with a special touch.

They give you a cup of tea and the whole concept of tea gains an extra dimension. They put their hand on your shoulder and say a few words and suddenly the heaviness of the day lifts and you feel better than before. You open your heart to them and tell them what is bothering you badly and somehow they know how to clean it away and make you feel there is hope yet. They come in when somebody has passed away and somehow they manage to turn sadness into gratitude. They are miracle makers.

I hope we all know people like that, because life is very hard if you have to live it without them. We’ve got more than a few in this congregation and if you have not spotted them yet I would suggest you keep your eyes and ears open. It’s a thing called love and understanding, care and the ability to take the other as they come and walk beside them when life gets hard. Come to think of it I think that we all have that ability in us, but that some are more able than others, some more confident than others, some less restrained than others. It’s not something we are learned to cultivate in this world, even in the church, because it involves giving without wanting anything back, sharing without fear about what will happen next, loving without judgement, trust without guarantees.

Alright, so - that’s something we all can do and we all should try to do: to bring healing where hearts are broken and pain is experienced, to clear the air and lift the heaviness of life where we can, to love and care for others in order to bring more wholeness into their lives.

If we do I think it might surprise us what amount of healing will happen and not only in a psychological, spiritual or mental sense. No miracle cures, no false hopes, but the practice of love and care for each other.

And perhaps there is a reason why Jesus sends his disciples off into their own community first: Because it is quite a challenge to do this for people we know. To offer a stranger a cup of tea and sit with them for a while and listen is a lot easier than to stay with someone you know you will be meeting in another context tomorrow. To pray with somebody who will be at you hammer and thongs in a meeting tomorrow more difficult than to pray for someone you might never see again. And yet: If we would manage to do that for each other the fights would probably become a lot less destructive and our community a place of more peace and deeper understanding for each other.

Think about somebody who helped you, who cured you, who brought healing to you and then try to picture yourself in disagreement with them. Wouldn’t it be different from somebody you’d never had any dealings with?
And again, try to imagine yourself having looked after somebody going through a tough time, would that person ever be the same again to you? Probably not.

Look around you. This Church is full of people who need, in one way or another, healing, cleansing, raising from the dead, casting out of demons. There are not many of us who have come through life unscathed, believe me.
Look again. This Church is full of people who have the ability to love, to nurture, to give, and to be there for somebody in someway that is helpful, supportive, encouraging and inspiring.

We’ve all been given to each other. Each and every one of us, to live out that command of Jesus: To be a community of healing where every disease and sickness is met with loving resistance against despair and hopelessness and every demon is met by an army of persistant and unwavering compassion and a stubborn refusal to give up on anyone anytime.

If it could only be like that, that every one who entered this community would come out better than when they came in. If only every one who is part of this community would feel supported and carried by Christ in us, wouldn’t that be wonderful?

It’s happening you know, every day, in this congregation. In quiet corners, in cafes, in homes, in hospitals and nursing homes, here on the premises, in JMC, in Kinross house, in the Kindergarten: the miracle of Christ’s healing power. There are many who can testify to that. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005


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