Well, the parks are open and the government is mostly back at work, but it feels like the division and challenge has just been kicked down the road a couple of months. We did see some work toward healing the divisions – perhaps most notably the work begun by Senator Susan Collins of Maine. There is great irony in the fact that much of the division was about healing and health care.
The saint we remember and celebrate today was a healer. Luke the physician started out as a binder up of wounds. He stitched up cut flesh, soothed stomachs, reduced fevers, and bound up broken limbs. He was also an evangelist, sharing good news about healing relationships with human beings and God. The kind of healing we call salvation is about binding up all kinds of brokenness – physical, social, and spiritual. Luke told the story of Jesus and the early church in Greek so that other communities might be included in the healing. He helped start what we’d call religious work – and that very word means binding together.
Healing work, holy work, salvation is profoundly about binding together. Christ is the sure foundation, who binds the church in one, as that hymn puts it. But the church is not the be-all and end-all of the binding work – this work of salvation, healing, and binding up brokenness is meant for the whole of creation. We affirm that when we say that Jesus came among us and made all creation new.
Luke expands the vision of a holy and healed community beyond the Jewish community to include the world of Greek speakers. He echoes Jesus’ claim made in that synagogue in Nazareth, that ‘the Spirit has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and announce the reign of God.’ Luke spreads that message abroad, to be enfleshed in healed human beings and communities, and a restored creation.
Religion and healing are about binding up what is broken, for the sake of setting free. We are bound up in the heart of God in order that we might be set free to love the world into wholeness. The great gift of Desmond Tutu’s truth and reconciliation project was bringing together former enemies, sinners and those sinned against, so that they might discover the humanity in the other, the image of God in the hated one. We are bound to God in Christ, held as one by bonds of love, bound to the one whose service is perfect freedom. That service is why we’re here – to bind up the world, with bonds that expand, rather than diminish, life. In the Jewish tradition, that binding up is called tikkun olam, repair of the world. All those actions Jesus claims as essential are about that kind of world repair.
We’re baptized to be repair technicians, physicians, healers and binders of the broken. It’s not work that’s primarily located “in church.” It’s the work we’re sent out of church to do – it’s God’s mission, what God sends us out to do and be – do repair, be healing. I can just hear your bishop breaking into song about now, “do, be, do, … doobie, doobie, do…” Luke did it by binding up wounds, curing fevers, and writing good news for people who couldn’t hear it in Hebrew. A shoe merchant can do it by caring for the person whose feet come in need of protection. Mother Becca Stevens in Nashville does it by giving abused, trafficked, and prostituted women a place to live and treating them with dignity, recognizing the image of God they bear. All of us are doing and being healing when we respond to an insult or slight in a more loving way – building up and repairing a broken relationship.
The brokenness in our communities can’t be healed unless we’re willing to enter into it. If we simply stand on the sidelines and criticize, nothing is likely to change. Prayer is a starting place – involving ourselves in the interest of healing. I can remember when I was a very young graduate student, deciding that it was my responsibility to pray for Ian Paisley, whom I saw as one of the great villains in the Irish “troubles.” I don’t know what it did for him or the conflict, but I do know that it changed me. Are we willing to pray for those we see as villains in the government shutdown? The invitation to invest ourselves in the “troubles” of any age or community is the beginning of holy healing. As long as we’re disinterested, there’s no opportunity to be a healer, a binder up of the world’s wounds. So, who needs your prayers in Washington, DC, or in Florida?
A friend sent me a great SNL sketch about Chaplain Barry Black, who has been praying with and for the Senate for ten years. The sketch is a parody of his investment in the troubles there, and of his challenge to the members to look beyond their narrow self-interest. It’s pretty funny, but it’s also telling. We can’t be agents of healing until we’re willing to enter in to the reality of the brokenness. Is the strife around us the result of greed, self-importance, narrow-mindedness? Often, yes. If we can poke at that a bit, honestly, and even with humor, we just might become a little more vulnerable ourselves, as well as inviting greater permeability in our brothers and sisters.
The willingness to be vulnerable to the pain and suffering around us is the starting point of healing. That’s the meaning of crucifixion, passion, and dying that brings resurrection. Jesus quite literally put himself in our shoes. When we can enter into the grief or brokenness of others, we begin to participate in the binding up, for we have discovered that we are indeed bound to our neighbors – all our neighbors. Affirming those bonds begins to set us free to find new life, whether you call it wholeness, healing, or salvation – and those words all have the same root.
Some people call that recognition of another’s suffering empathy. It’s a clinical term for the beginning of compassion, but that more sacred word does not stop with a feeling. It continues into action, the kind of sacramental response that makes healing outwardly real. It looks like the women in the Senate who began to build bridges across partisan divides. It looks like the willingness to explore our own narrow-minded and racist thoughts. It looks like truth and reconciliation in Rwanda, where an offender tills a field for the family of a victim, or helps to care for the orphans of the massacred – orphans of another tribe or ethnic group. It is only in discovering our common bonds that we begin to be set free for abundant life. There can be no healing without diagnosis, without recognizing and naming our connectedness.
That’s why we’re here in Punta Gorda. It occurs to me that the literal meaning of this place – fat cape or fat point – is an image of what Jesus reads about in that synagogue in Nazareth. All those wonderful prophetic echoes of a banquet on the hillside, with abundant food and drink of the finest sort, and the breakfast Jesus cooks on the beach for his friends, and the meal we are going to share here – both this sacramental foretaste and the one we will enjoy later this evening – all of them are here and now signs of Jesus’ proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favor. That healed world is bound together in love, and set free to be love for neighbor, near at hand and far away. We are here to become that banquet sign of our bonds of affection with all that is.
So, go pray for your legislator – and the ones on the other side of the aisle. Remember the unemployed and forgotten victims of our failure to build a just society. And go be a healing presence. Our salvation depends on it – for we will not be healed until the bonds of love transcend the brokenness and division among us. The Spirit has anointed us to bring good news to the poor, to heal the sick, bind up the broken-hearted, release the prisoners, and proclaim the dream of God for a healed world. Keep praying – your kingdom come, O Lord, on earth as it is in heaven – and leave this place to do and be that healing love in flesh and blood.