Holy Trinity Episcopal Church


Back To List

    Aug 25, 2019

    The 11th Sunday After Pentecost

    Passage: Luke 13:10-17

    Preacher: The Rev. Sarah Carver

    Series: Year C: 2019-2020

    Category: Epiphany


    One of the things that I learned in my short time as a social worker in a cancer center, was that healing is rarely as straight forward as it should be or as we think it should be. As the social worker, my job was to handle the social emotional needs of my patients as well as help them navigate through the financial and insurance minefield that is the American healthcare system. Many of my patients didn’t have adequate resources to deal with both their illness and everyday life and so I would help them find the resources they needed to cope. Sometimes that was money, sometimes that was helping them problem solve situations and sometimes it was sitting down with their bills and going through them with the patient and directing them to financial assistance programs. Some folks had huge needs, others were more mundane, like the lady who wanted one of those mechanical lazy-boyz that helps the occupant get out of the recliner by lifting them out of it. She couldn’t afford one but knew of a neighbor whose husband had one and he had died. She came to me wondering how she might go about asking for the chair, tactfully. I suggested that bringing a casserole first might help. But it was never just about my patient’s physical wellbeing—it was never just about the cancer and for some people, cancer wasn’t even the worst thing happening to them. Many of the folks I worked with were of course worried about their health, but they were also worried about their marriages, their finances, their mental health, or what would happen if and when they died. It wasn’t just bodies, but hearts and souls that needed healing too. Sometimes the cancer seemed to be the easiest thing to fix.

                Which brings us to Jim. Jim had been a brick layer in his working life, now he was an old man with tongue cancer who’d had very little to live on even before he became ill. When I met him he needed a walker to get around and he’d had several teeth removed which was necessary for his radiation treatment to be successful. When he spoke he was almost impossible to understand and he was suffering from some of the side effects of both the cancer and the radiation—he lacked an appetite and chewing was painful—nearly impossible. Now Jim sounds like a sympathetic case. And at a glance his sounds like a situation where it would be easy to want to step in and offer Jim whatever assistance he needed. But Jim was not that simple. First of all, he objected to his liquid painkiller, which confused us all—this was the easiest way to administer pain management why would he want tablets? Well, it became clear to us that he was trying to sell his medication to his neighbors who were more than ready to buy it. Then there was the almost constant discord surrounding him and he was not often willing to take the steps he needed to in order to care for himself—like looking after his diet. Basically, he was surviving on muscle milk and beer. This was a problem. He wasn’t getting proper nutrition and he was already skin and bones. The last thing I wanted for him was see the cancer treated only for him to starve to death in the process. Ensure, a liquid diet supplement would help him immensely—but it is really expensive, especially for someone like Jim. I asked him to give me a receipt so I could submit it to one of the funds that helped folks with medical needs such as Ensure, which aren’t covered in other programs. He did and I sent it directly to the admin for the funds he needed. A few days later she called me to say that the receipt I had submitted to her also included a 30 pack of beer. Oops. She pretty much told me that if he can afford beer, he can afford Ensure.

                Now I can’t even begin to image what motivated Jim to make the choices that he was making. My best guess is that it was probably a mix of poverty and addiction. What I did know was that I had a super complex patient who was struggling—a victim of disease and I’m sure of his own bad choices. So my answer to the woman on the phone disapproving of the beer was this: I understand what you are saying, but he still needs the Ensure. He still needed the Ensure. Even in the mix of all that was so difficult with Jim, he still needed the nutrition, he still was struggling, and he still needed help. My argument was that he needed the help, her argument was that he wasn’t quite deserving of it.

    There are two arguments also happening here in Luke’s story over the interpretation of Sabbath. Scholars point out that there are two ways to view Sabbath. One is that it is a day of rest just as God rested and a day to worship and honor God; the other is that it is a day of rest in observation of Israel’s liberation from Egypt. In this interpretation, Sabbath is not just about putting down work, but also about “doing justice to one’s neighbor”[1]. This is why we see in our first reading from Isaiah the words:

    If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;

    For Isaiah, Sabbath is indeed tied to justice. And this is the understanding of Sabbath that Jesus is employing in our story. So Luke is not just telling us a tale about a beloved woman’s miraculous healing, Luke is also telling us a story about justice: in Luke’s world justice and healing go hand in hand. A healed world will be a just world and a just world will heal people—and that will mean the full arrival of the Kingdom of God. Healing and justice are really the same thing. In this incredible scene of Jesus healing this woman who had been bent over for years, it is not just about her newfound ability to stand up as a healed person. It is about God breaking into that moment to reveal who God is and what God is all about. In healing this woman God acted a liberator—setting her free from her bondage—Jesus uses that language over and over in the passage as he ties Sabbath back to liberation. The kind of holiness God is seeking is the kind where the well being of everyone is seen to, that everyone is healed, that justice comes first. This is who God is. Honoring God, also means seeking justice, righting wrongs, caring for one another. The leaders of the synagogue were arguing that this woman’s need didn’t trump the need to observe the Sabbath; Jesus’ argument was that because God is a God of justice, observing the Sabbath also meant healing her.

    The truth is that we all are in need of some kind of healing--we all need justice. For some of us, we do need physical healing, we need adequate access to healthcare, to doctors and medicine to be our full physical selves. We need structures in society that ensure we all have access to care. This is one kind of healing. Yet there are perfectly healthy people, fit in every kind of way, who are shattered on the inside, who have been damaged by the cruelty and carelessness of others, who do not see themselves as beloved, for whom healing seems an impossibility. Their healing requires patience, time, and deep compassion and understanding. Then there are yet others who’s very spirits have been crushed, and hope taken away. The wounds of the world can be found in body, mind and spirit, often at the same time. Justice ensures that all who need healing are healed. That is what stands out in our gospel reading today: a woman was bent over for 18 years and Jesus saw her and made her whole again. She hadn’t earned the right to be healed, nor, as many point out, did she ask for it—its not really about her. This is about a just and loving God who wishes to see us all restored to the beloved children we were created to be.

    But we often fight the healing. We are often more like Jim—choosing things that get in the way of justice and healing both for ourselves and for others. We put up barriers that make it hard—we deem some people worthy of care and others less so, we even do that to ourselves—believing we are not worthy of healing, or even that we need to be healed. True healing is a mix of repentance, forgiveness and vulnerability and most of us struggle with each of these things. Researcher Brene Brown has studied shame and vulnerability for years and has come to the conclusion that to be well, we need to be vulnerable and honest with our need for love and connection, we need to be honest about where it is we are struggling. In other words, we need to be honest about where we need to heal. She points out that when we can’t do that for ourselves, we can’t do it for others and so we turn to food, entertainment, or in Jim’s case, alcohol to try and ignore what is hurting us and what we loose in that numbing as she calls it, is true connection, and joy.[2]

    So, ask yourselves, what healing do you need? Where are your wounds, where do you need to know you are beloved? That you belong, that you are worthy? It will be different for each of us. One of the offerings we have been talking about in terms of pastoral care is having more healing services throughout the year—not just during Lent. The need for healing goes on throughout the year so it makes sense to provide some sacred space to honor and facilitate some of that healing. So stay attuned to that. And remember that as God is indiscriminant in healing, so we should be too. We are to seek justice for everyone and healing for everyone—as Isaiah says to Israel:

    If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

    Do this for everyone, do this for yourselves. Amen.


    [1] Feasting on the Word Year C Proper 17

    [2] Brene Brown Daring Greatly