Sermon preached by the Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh
St. Luke’s, Portland
February 4, 2018; Epiphany 5B: Isaiah 40:21-311 Corinthians 9:16-23Mark 1:29-39
“Let us go onto the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” The season of Epiphany is about showing who Jesus is. In this morning’s gospel, he takes that to another level, telling us – and showing us – what he has come to do. He is here to proclaim a message. What’s the message? Contrary to popular belief, Jesus’ message isn’t about love or forgiveness or salvation or justice or even judgment. Jesus’ message is about the Kingdom or Reign of God. More specifically, Jesus’ message is that the Kingdom of God has come near and he uses healing to show people what that means.
The idea of healing tends to make modern Christians nervous. It conjures up images of tacky televangelists and querulous quacks trying to sell us something. As seen in the book of Ecclesiasticus, however, our Judeo-Christian tradition has long had great respect for the practice of medicine. Luke himself was said to be a doctor and Jesus was referred to as the great physician. Throughout his ministry, Jesus healed people, in both physical and spiritual ways. Faith healing was common in Jesus’ day. In our own, more and more hospitals are becoming holistic, recognizing the power of prayer and the spiritual side of healing. (Even the most secular of institutions prescribe a more palatable form of prayer packaged as mindfulness.) Jesus’ work goes farther than that. A significant part of his ministry was casting out of demons. Whether you take that literally or metaphorically, it’s hard to deny that there is evil in the world and a spiritual side to things of which we are not always aware. Most people deal with demons in one way or another. For some, they are found in the residual effects of childhood trauma or PTSD from other events. For others, they appear in all-consuming feelings of anger or regret or shame or guilt or fear. For others, demons are embodied in those secret personal struggles, voices that say things like “you are a bad person” “no one could love you” you’re not good enough” “your sister is the smart one” “you are not good with people… or no good in math” “you are stupid, or dumb or ugly…. sometimes speaking in the first person rather than the second. One of the most heart-breaking moments of Francis Madeira’s funeral last year came when one of his friends said that all the way to the end of his 100-year life, Francis had struggled with his father’s voice in his head saying that he would never amount to anything. If you knew Francis, you knew that he was remarkably accomplished and did truly amazing and wonderful things in his life. Imagine what he would have done if he didn’t have demons to struggle with like that. Can you relate to his story? Do you have tapes playing over and over in your head that need to be erased or demons that need to be let go? Like physical healing, his is a place where a professional can play an important part. So can Jesus. So can the church and the sacraments we gave to help us along our way. Have you ever noticed how when I break the host, I bring the two pieces back together? That’s what Jesus came to do for you. For Jesus, that kind of healing was a symbol of the kingdom of God.
Now, as I mentioned last week, it isn’t just about us. Jesus didn’t just come to offer healing on a personal level or a spiritual one. Jesus came to do what Talmudic Judaism would call Tikkun olam – to heal the world. This is a good thing. Our world today is in desperate need of healing. To use another Hebrew word. Jesus came to bring Shalom: not just inner peace or peace between nations, but what to quote that great theological resource known as Wikipedia, Shalom is “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight …universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.” 
If all this sounds like a bit much, it may be that your image of God – and of God’s church and God’s people — is a little too small. Did you hear the words of Isaiah? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. This is the hope we are looking for. This is Shalom. Tikkun Olam. Jesus came to heal the world and show that this kingdom is near. He said, “Let us go onto the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” His “us” says this is our task as well. To share hope, however, we have to have it. Are you weighed down by demons or by what the old hymn calls a sin-sick soul? There is a balm in Gilead. There is a kingdom where God wipes away the tears of every eye, where the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations, and where those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength and shall mount up with wings like eagles. Jesus used healing to show people what this kingdom would look like. Today he wants to do the same thing with you.