Sunday, February 8, 2015

Barbara Moyer Lehman: Practicing Persistent Hope

Where God reigns...there is wholeness
Psalm 147:1-11,20c; Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39

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Today we conclude our 3 part series on “Where God reigns…”. (We are on the third ‘dot’.!) Phil preached the first Sunday on ‘Where God reigns, there is welcome.” Last Sunday was on, “Where God reigns, there is obedience”. Today we look at “Where God reigns, there is wholeness”. 
I got stuck for a few days on trying to figure out what ‘wholeness’ is. The dictionary tells us that to be WHOLE, means “not having any part or element missing, not broken, defective or damaged, to be complete, not divided into units or sections, to be in good health or good condition.” Do we see ourselves as ‘whole, human beings’ when we are born, but something less than whole, when we are close to death, after all, our bodies start to break down, parts stop functioning. Are we on a continuum of whole…. (at 50 or 65) partially whole, and then at 95, pretty far gone? Or does it go the other way? As we age, we mature, we gain wisdom, understanding, knowledge, insight, and maybe we move more towards being whole. I stumbled through the week, wondering where this was going to go. In the process I had some interesting conversations with a few of you and so this sermon has been a collaborative effort.

What does ‘wholeness’ look like in the gospel text for today from Mark?
4 brief scenes and my titles for them:
  1. The healing of Ethel (Simon’s mother in law). No, there is no Ethel in your Bible or mine, but sometimes I like to give a name to the ‘nameless’ women and men whose stories are included. (Psalm 147 “God determines the number of stars; and gives to all of them their names. If stars have names, people should also!) When Jesus and the men show up at Simon and Andrew’s house after the services at the synagogue, Jesus is told immediately that ‘Ethel’ is in bed with fever. Jesus goes to her, takes her by the hand (touch!) and raises her up. The fever leaves her body and she begins to serve them!
What does wholeness look like in scene 1? A women’s health is restored. Physical healing takes place, but she is also restored to her place and role in the household of extending hospitality to guests, taking care of necessary details of managing the kitchen, preparing and serving food, an important ministry and place of service, especially for women.
  1. Mass healing at sundown – Jesus’ reputation and ministry was already becoming known and his fame had spread. All who were sick or possessed with demons were brought to him. The text reads that “he cured many of various illnesses and cast out many demons.”
What does wholeness look like in scene 2? Physical healings took place of various diseases…many, but not all?? Many demons were cast out, but maybe not all?? Wholeness looks like physical healing of many, but also a release from bondage of the demonic spirits that kept people in darkness. In Mark’s gospel we see highlights of various ways that Jesus’ presence brings people to wholeness. By casting out demons, Jesus robs Satan’s house. When Satan’s power and influence over people is taken away and replaced with God’s power and influence, wholeness is possible and God’s reign is established.
  1. Give me a break – after a long day of healing and casting out demons, Jesus was exhausted, depleted. Early the next morning he leaves the house, seeking solitude and a place to pray, to be renewed in body and spirit. Jesus practiced/modeled a rhythm of work, rest, solitude and prayer.
What does wholeness look like in scene 3? Practicing good self care, maintaining a healthy and balanced rhythm of work, rest, activities that renew and restore, prayer—acknowledging limitations. Jesus needed a break, so do we!
  1. Time to move on… Simon and his companions hunted for Jesus and found him, interrupting his time of prayer and solitude. The crowds were clamoring for more of his attention. There was still a need for him to return for another day of healing and casting out demons! (Accessed the situation, took a few deep breaths…) Jesus said…, ‘Let’s move on…’ Jesus knew what his priority was…to proclaim the message…that is what he came to do, and within the proclamation of that message, clarity and understanding would happen as to the significance of and need for all of the other ministries that took place.
What does wholeness look like in scene 4? Setting some limits, clarifying priorities, establishing boundaries, accepting what can and can not be accomplished. And then moving on!

Every one of those insights about what wholeness looked like in those few verses from Mark’s gospel, could be applied to today. (Physical healings, release from bondage of all kinds of things, restoration of one’s self esteem in fulfilling work, finding balance in a busy life that includes time for rest, renewal, prayer, setting boundaries, acknowledging limits, clarifying priorities, letting go, moving on……)

What might wholeness look like for you? Is it something that we work for, or achieve by doing certain things, and know when we have attained it? Does wholeness happen with a few specific, momentary experiences OR is it more like a journey that we are on and a direction that we are moving toward?

Two wise people in separate conversations this week expressed similar thoughts about wholeness, when they said, (paraphrasing): wholeness is more a state of becoming, than a state of being.
Is it more of a vision that we are moving toward as we live out our lives? Are we somewhere on a continuum, moving from brokenness to wholeness?

An exercise that I encourage you to do and maybe the sermon discussion classes might also want to try is to write two words at the top of a paper or white board: Brokenness (left side) and Wholeness (right side). Then under each word write all of the words that you can think of that might be classified under each word.
Brokenness         Wholeness
Dis-ease             oneness
Alienation          restoration
Separation         fullness
Resentment       reconciliation
Factions             forgiveness
Fragmentation   maturity
Jealousy            release from bondage
Then think about the different areas and relationships in your life. Are your actions, attitudes, thoughts and words moving you toward greater wholeness or toward brokenness. (Give some examples) What needs to change and are you willing to take the risk to work at making it happen.

A second exercise would be to do this with the same two words and process, but think about this congregation, our faith community, our VA conference and the larger MCUSA. What events, activities, happenings are moving us to greater wholeness? Where might you be on the continuum between brokenness and wholeness in your relationship to the church and the faith community? And what do we do when one activity or decision is seen by some to be moving the church or conference in the direction of wholeness/health and the same decision/activity is seen by others as moving the church toward fragmentation/brokenness?

Wholeness is a vision towards which we move…an on-going growth process and dynamic movement of ‘becoming and belonging’. Are there things that distract us in our personal lives from moving toward and experiencing wholeness? What about in the church?

If we believe that “where God reigns, there is wholeness”, what are some of the signs? Do we see evidence of this in our churches, our faith communities, our families? I would hope that we would see and experience generosity, compassion, humility, respect for others, among other things.
When I feel that my life is leaning more to the wholeness side than it is to the brokenness side, it usually means I have found a good balance in my daily activities and that I haven’t neglected my spiritual disciplines. It is hard to maintain that in the midst of busy schedules, stressful situations at work or in the family, health challenges and loss. I usually know what the triggers are for me that bring tears, anger, high blood pressure, tension headaches, and move me toward the brokenness side. What are those things for you?

Living in a world where we continue to see on a daily basis the violence and suffering on the news, where we have our own personal struggles and past agenda to deal with, where we have fears and anxiety over whether our church will stay together, it is extremely difficult to keep before us a vision of wholeness, a vision of hope, a vision of shalom.
In our faith communities we need to do a lot of ‘one anothering’, that is, bearing one another’s burdens, encouraging one another, loving one another, forgiving one another, praying for one another, listening to one another.

We need to be persistent and develop good habits and healthy disciplines that move us toward wholeness. We need to discover what is life-giving for us. God’s presence brought wholeness to those persons in Mark whom Jesus touched and ministered to.

Where does God bring wholeness into our lives? On this journey we need to recognize the demons along the way that weigh us down, bind us up, hold us back, the distractions that get in our way and prevent us from seeing the signs of the Kingdom, the signs of wholeness and health. And then we must have our eyes wide open to recognize and give great attention to the MESSENGERS FROM GOD, who encourage us and guide us and show us the steps to take toward wholeness, well being, shalom! The messengers, the carriers of God’s word are among us, often in human form…..through the voice of a friend, a child, a dying saint, a beloved parent. The messengers of God can come through the words of a hymn, a handwritten note, the beauty of a sunset.
May God bring light into our darkness.
May God give us peace beyond our fears.
May God give hope beyond our sorrow.
May God give us courage to walk toward wholeness.
Give us all your vision…God of love.

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