The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
We can say many things about the person of Jesus of Nazareth, but more than anything else, he was a healer. We’ve just heard of two miracles - a young girl raised from the dead, and a woman freed from years of hemorrhages. In both cases, and in dozen of other similar stories in the gospels, Jesus acts immediately, without question, out of his boundless compassion for anyone who suffers. He was a healer. This drew people to him and made him famous.
In our reading from the Wisdom of Solomon this morning, we also heard how central healing is to God’s purposes for all creation. God did not make death, it says. God created all things that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome.
Healing, compassion, and wholesomeness continue to be God’s purpose for us. They are also at the center of our ministry. We ask for God’s forgiveness; we pray for and visit the sick and those in crisis; we receive healing and spiritual wholeness in the Eucharist; and we aim for reconciliation in all our relationships.
However, our hope for healing and our call to be healers is not limited to our personal lives alone. Many of you are engaged in social work, teaching, advocacy, medical care, or counseling. Each of these offer a different form of healing for society. Every Sunday we pray for the healing of the nations. Every time we renew our baptismal covenant, we say that we will strive for justice and peace.
This broad understanding of healing is woven throughout the scriptures, and it has always been a part of most religious traditions. We are expected to be healers of society.
Last week the Supreme Court made its ruling on an historic piece of legislation that has to do with social healing: the Affordable Care Act. Let’s keep in mind that beneath all the arguing about how this law might affect the role of government and the economy, the new law was designed to try to improve the health of millions of our fellow citizens who have not had access to adequate medical care.
We may disagree about the possible effects of this law over time. But its intention is consistent with the life and ministry of Jesus, the work of the Christian Church, and God’s intention for humanity, expressed throughout scripture: it is an effort to bring healing to the people.
And so today I’d like to take this opportunity to address the question of how our faith can be lived out in the public arena, of which this legislation is but one example. Let’s start at the beginning, where our highest value lies.
I would hope that regardless of political affiliation, every follower of Jesus Christ would do his or her best to place the person of Christ and his teachings at the center of their life - their whole life. Jesus did not come just to offer a little spiritual comfort for our personal situations. His was not a Time Magazine approach to faith, where religion has a little isolated section alongside other sections like international relations, entertainment, and opinion.
Jesus came with a vision that encompasses and integrates everything into one: our personal life and faith, yes, but also how we treat fellow workers and employees, our social prejudices, war and peace, and the relations between the wealthy and the poor. We see this throughout the gospels, and we are invited to give our whole life to Christ.
This is what it means for Jesus to be our “Lord.” Now this title is pretty outdated. It suggests power, subjugation and obedience, none of which is very attractive to us. “Lord” and “Master” are feudal terms, or, worse yet, the language of slavery. This is why, in our use of inclusive liturgical language, we are now sometimes supplementing this title with other words.
But Lordship isn’t all bad. For a little child, a loving and wise parent is a kind of Master. It is the parent’s responsibility to exercise this authority with wisdom, kindness and flexibility. Where this is true, the child looks to the parent as someone who has their best interests at heart, and so, at least until they must individuate, they trust and they follow. The “Lordship,” if you will, of parents over small children, is integrative, holistic. It encompasses safety, ethics, health, education, food, love - everything.
Jesus is our Lord in this sense. As a human being who is filled with the love and truth of God, we trust that his guidance for us is God’s intention for humanity. We trust that he has our best interests at heart. And so we do our best to follow him.
Jesus’ guidance is integrative, holistic, like a good parent. It leaves no part of our life out. If you read the gospels, you see that Jesus asks that everything be brought into what he called “the kingdom of God”: every relationship, every attitude towards individuals or social groups that differ from us, every action, even every thought and feeling. God’s reign is complete, and Jesus is Lord of all. That’s what it means to be his follower. And when we respond holistically to this call, when we leave nothing out, it saves us, it sets us free, and it creates healing all around us.
And so an intentionally Christian approach to social and political healing, justice, and peace is not just one of many options for any of us, alongside other approaches. If we claim Jesus as Lord, we can’t trump his priorities here and there, saying “Well, Jesus’ ways are just not practical. Not here, not now.”
But here’s the rub. While Christians may not be at liberty to dismiss Jesus’ teachings in certain areas of their lives, we are at liberty to disagree about how best to put them into practice. And we haven’t been very good about how to talk about this together.
Instead, in sermons and in prayers and conversation, we bandy about fuzzy terms like “social justice, peace and compassion,” as if everyone agreed what pursuing these ideals should look like. Liberals are particularly bad about this. We can come across as if the only legitimate ways to live out these ideals are those proposed by the left. I’ve even seen a bumper sticker that says “Jesus was a Democrat.” To the extent that I’ve contributed to this sort of thing over the years, I apologize to those of you who are conservatives. We’ve sometimes made it seem as if you couldn’t possibly have anything to contribute to justice, peace, and compassion.
On the other hand, Christians on the right have not been very good about articulating a vision that is grounded firmly in the Lordship of Jesus Christ. They sometimes seem to temporarily put his teachings on a shelf when it comes to the cold hard facts of business, the justice system, war, the environment, and other social issues.
I want to hear about conservative versions of Christly compassion and healing for the poor, for those caught in cycles of violence and crime, for those who don’t have access to decent healthcare or education, and for our enemies.
The important thing for us as the Body of Christ is to try to live his teachings holistically - in our personal world, at our place of employment, and in our political views and actions. But because we’re so complex and diverse, we will never agree just how to do this. That’s okay.
The most we can do is hold up the person and teaching of Jesus Christ as authoritative for all of us, and support one another as we try, in our diverse ways, to be more faithful to his vision of building the kingdom of God here on earth.
Soon we will enter the final phase of an election cycle. Starting this week our church will gather in Indianapolis for General Convention. During both, there will be passionate arguments from different points of view. Both secular and ecclesiastical politics can get ugly. We can end up questioning the integrity, motivation, and faith of our opponents.
You and I are called to be healers in this world, as Jesus was. This not only means that Jesus Christ should guide us to conclusions about how to heal society. It also means that he should guide our way of disagreeing, even our inner thoughts about our opponents. This is healing work, too, badly needed in our day.
The Church offers a perfect environment for this healing work to take place. For after we disagree honestly about how to best put into practice our common faith, we can then embrace and turn to this table together. Here our Lord nourishes us all, that we might continue, in our different ways, on this journey of faith.