(You may watch video of this sermon here.)
The healers and the helpers, the caregivers, the caretakers always have been essential to the survival of communities. We need our healers.
Just like we need the growers, the warriors, the weavers, the artisans, the builders, the traders, the teachers, the story tellers, the mystagogues, the music makers, the leaders … There are central roles that any community needs. We need to have good people and groups of people serving in these different ways to be able to be survive and thrive as a community. When things get out of balance, and some roles are not honored or supported in the ways they need to be able to take care of the needs they address in society, there can be some real problems.
As we now are going through the stresses of this pandemic and all the disruptions and changes we’re going through, it’s helped us to appreciate more what roles we need people to play in our lives together. What work is essential work? It’s also exposed the ways that many of these essential workers are not supported or honored in their roles. Think of the folks in the meatpacking plants having to fight to get minimal safeguards while the virus tears through their ranks. And think of the tremendous, overwhelming stresses on our health care providers. The healers and the helpers, the caregivers, the caretakers always have been essential to the survival of communities. That’s urgently true now – and it’s very important they are getting the support they need.
My preaching the past several weeks has mostly focused on healing, exploring how Jesus’ healing stories and other themes of healing in the Bible speak to the needs of our times. Today I feel led to speak to the healing needs of our healers.
Recently someone I was talking with about the healing stories in the Bible pointed out that Jesus sometimes seems overburdened with the constant demands on him to heal everyone. I’ve talked some here about those moments when Jesus is really quite human. This is something this person I was talking to was glad to be able to relate to with Jesus. They’re a front-line healthcare provider way too often overburdened with the demands of caring for patients in a system that does not give providers the time or resources they need, even before the pandemic.
Jesus was a healer. And as a healer, he was very much in demand.
When Jesus healed people he often told them not to tell anyone about it. But, of course, that’s exactly what they went off and did. So, wherever Jesus went, crowds of people with all kinds of hurts and ailments would seek him out. Jesus was a healer, and he taught and empowered his disciples to be healers. And there’s something to learn from looking at what happened the first time Jesus sent his disciples off on their own to bring healing to the sick, and freedom to those haunted by their demons, to bring peace to the troubled. When the disciples came back from this first foray into their lives as healers, we’re told they had been so busy they hadn’t had time to eat.
How many nurses, doctors, EMTs can relate to this?
So, Jesus said to them, “Let’s have you all come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” Jesus often liked to go off in the desert to pray, to be alone with the presence of God. And we know Sabbath is central to Jewish life (and should be central to Christian life, and central to the lives of everyone, let alone those who are doing healing work) – regular time of rest and renewal, centered in prayer. Jesus was teaching his disciples the importance of this, as they stepped into their work as healers.
But just as they went off to get some rest, people caught sight of where they were going and headed them off, so when they arrived there was a crowd waiting for them. Just as they were going to clock out … and how many caregivers, healthcare workers, healers, helpers can relate to this?
Now, Jesus was moved by compassion when he saw this crowd of people in their need and he settled in and taught the folks who had gathered there.
This is the set-up for the famous loaves and fishes miracle.
We’re talking about thousands of people who are now way out beyond the outskirts of town. They’ve just listened to Jesus teach, probably for good while. And now they’re now hungry. The disciples want to send them all away to fend for themselves for supper. They came out here to get a break from everyone in the first place – they themselves still haven’t eaten.
But, Jesus tells them to take the little food they have and give it away. In the breaking and giving of that bread and the fish, the food doesn’t diminish – it multiplies. And everyone is fed.
And what happens after that? Jesus sends everyone away, including the disciples, and goes up the mountain to get his alone time and pray.
In our lives of service, we need to rely on a Higher Power.
We can’t become more Christ-like without relying more on Christ.
If it’s just up to us, we can’t do it, and we definitely can’t keep doing it. How great the world’s heart-break. How great the world’s wound. How great the world’s hunger.
But if our reliance is on God, what’s possible is greater than we can imagine. God can provide. We at our best are vessels for the love and life that God is pouring out with such abandon through the world.
Many healers are wounded healers: Folks who know hurt and know heartbreak and have found that part of their healing is the work of helping others to heal. In their woundedness and strength they have become open vessels.
Many healers become wounded healers, even if they didn’t start out that way. Their work has brought them so close to hurt and heart-break. They then go through the struggle and growth of learning to rely on God so that it is in breaking and giving we can multiply and receive.
What all this means is that healers need healers. Caregivers need care given to them.
Especially now with the, at times, overwhelming need, we need to be supporting our healers and caregivers in the ways we can – spiritually, socially, financially, systemically.
But, above all, in all of this, may we all know that our ultimate support and our ultimate healing is in the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Redeemer of all life.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-29
(Delivered Sunday August 16, 2020, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg at First Congregational United Church of Christ of Walla Walla)
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