Tag Archives: Sermon

Jesus: The Wounded Healer

This sermon was given on May 1, 2011 at the evening service at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlotte, NC.  During the service we celebrated the graduation of two Education for Ministry (EFM) students with whom I studied.  The graduates asked that I preach, and I was honored to oblige.

Gospel Reading: John 20:19-31

When I was in grade school, we had an annual tradition of making Christmas plates in class, which we would cover in homemade wrapping paper, and then place under the tree at home for our parents to open on Christmas morning.  It was kind of a big deal.  I drew my very first Christmas plate at the age of five, and I knew exactly what I wanted to draw on it—Baby Jesus.  After several minutes of painstaking work, it occurred to me that I had failed to draw Jesus, and instead had drawn myself.

Two years later, I took up the task of drawing Jesus again.  This Jesus was much closer to the mark.  He had a halo, a beard, and a Stoll—just like an Episcopal Priest.  At the top of the plate I wrote, “I love you Mom and Dad—JESUS.”

At that same period of childhood, I, like lots of kids, would sometimes see my parents argue.  And when they did, I didn’t hide or pretend like I didn’t notice what was going on.  Instead I would run to the cupboard, grab my Jesus plate, and thrust it up in the air like a shield, shouting, “Jesus loves you! Jesus loves you!!!!”

When I shared this story with my EFM friends a couple of weeks ago, two of whom are graduating tonight, we all laughed at how perhaps this was the first inkling of my desire to be a priest one day.

You may be asking yourself: What in the world does this have to do with today’s scripture??

Our Gospel reading tells us the story of the infamous “doubting Thomas.”  When I told my dad that I’d be preaching on Thomas this weekend, he looked at me and said, “Don’t be too hard on him.”  Another of my friends prefers the nick name “curious Thomas.”  Why is it this passage makes us a little nervous?  Why is it we don’t want to be too hard on Thomas?  Because we are Thomas.  We too have doubts.  And yet I think there’s an even deeper story we can miss if we just focus on Thomas and his doubts.

When the disciples tell Thomas that they have seen Jesus and that Jesus lives, Thomas doesn’t just say he has to see Jesus to believe He is risen.  He says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Why did Thomas need to see Jesus’ wounds?  One of my favorite writers, Henri Nouwen, says that ministry and healing words seem in-authentic, “unless it comes from a heart wounded by the suffering about which he speaks.”

Thomas was wounded on Good Friday when he saw his friend and teacher hung up on a cross.  So he didn’t just need proof of Jesus, he needed healing.  And he needed healing from someone who understood what it is to be wounded.

I think maybe it’s pretty significant that Jesus didn’t return to his disciples whole and unscathed.  It wasn’t: “Yeah, I conquered death, no big deal.”  But: “Man!  That HURT!  See these holes in my hands and feet?  And check out my side!!  You can put your hand in the wound, it’s so big!  That was a painful mess.”

So Jesus returns to His disciples again, wounds and all.  And this time, Thomas is there.  And Thomas doesn’t just see that, yes, here is Jesus, alive and well.  He sees Jesus as real and really alive.  Real because He hurts like I do, has wounds like I do—and really alive because He’s here speaking to me, saying “Peace be with you.”  And His presence is peace.

Here’s another story—an old legend taken from the Talmud:

Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi came upon Elijah the prophet… He asked Elijah, “When will the Messiah come?”  Elijah replied,
“Go and ask him yourself.”
“Where is he?”
“Sitting at the gates of the city.”
“How shall I know him?”
“He is sitting among the poor covered with wounds.  The others unbind their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again.  But he unbinds one at a time and then binds it up again, saying to himself, ‘Perhaps I shall be needed: if so I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.’”

In both stories we see Jesus, the Messiah, illustrated as “the wounded healer.” Wounds are often something we want to cover up, hide, and ignore.  We want to be rid of them as quickly as possible, and we certainly don’t want them to slow us down.  And yet here is Jesus, wounded.  And He doesn’t hide His wounds, but says, “Look at me.  Put your finger here and touch my hands.”  There’s something to this woundedness.  Something Jesus doesn’t want us to miss.  A wise friend of mine says, “Grace enters the soul through wounds.”

Nouwen says, “When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.”  And, “Therefore ministry is a very confronting service.  It does not allow people to live with illusions of immortality and wholeness.  It keeps reminding others that they are mortal and broken, but also that with the recognition of this condition, liberation starts.”

Jesus comes to His disciples with his wounds, saying “Peace be with you” with his wounds, ministering to them with his wounds, so that we who are also wounded might have the courage to do the same.  Our hope is not just in the Risen Lord, but in the Lord who is risen with wounds.  Thus we who are wounded need not hide from this broken world, but bring peace into it, holding our banner high, proclaiming “Jesus loves you.”

Amen.

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An Ironic Sermon: Preaching on Patience

(OT—Isaiah 35:1-10; Epistle—James 5:7-10; Gospel—Matthew 11:2-11)

Christ Episcopal Church, Charlotte, NC.  December 12, 2010, 5pm Service

Prayer—In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.  The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.”

I could not help but be reminded of corn-canning when reading today’s Epistle in James.  You see, corn-canning is a very significant time for my dad’s side of the family.  Every year, the aunts, uncles, cousins, grandkids and great-grandkids gather at my grandparents’ farm to harvest and “can” the corn.  We pull it off the stalks, shuck it, silk it, cook it, cut it, and can it.  It’s the most efficient assembly line I’ve ever seen, and NO ONE is left out.  This usually happens one of the last weekends of July or the first weekend of August, but the exact time is never known until it arrives.

Timing was never an issue when my family lived in Lubbock, a mere hour-and-a-half drive from the farm in Hereford, Texas.  But once we moved to Virginia, planning around corn-canning was virtually impossible.  My dad was lucky enough to fly to Texas the exact weekend of corn-canning a few years ago—it was a fluke.  I tried to do the same this summer with no luck whatsoever.  Crops don’t have a set schedule, and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t consult my schedule to see when corn-canning is convenient for me.  Just because I buy tickets to Texas the last weekend in July doesn’t mean the corn will be ready to harvest.

“You also must be patient.  Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”

Keep in mind that this is the Epistle reading, not an Old Testament reading.  So when James says “the coming of the Lord is near,” he’s not talking about the Baby Jesus we tend to think of in this advent season.  Baby Jesus has been there, done that.  As our Gospel reading reminds us, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”  James is talking about advent, but more specifically about the second advent.  The Latin word adventus means coming.  We also refer to this second coming with the Greek term parousia, meaning arrival, coming or presence.  Why are we talking about the second coming of Christ during the season of advent?  We’re supposed to be preparing for His birth, for the humble beginnings of the Christian faith, not the “end times,” right?

Let’s go back to those corn crops in Hereford.  While corn-canning may only be one weekend a year, farming takes place all year round: Preparing the soil, planting the seeds, checking the irrigation, checking the Ph of the soil again, watching the plants mature, warding off pests—even letting the fields lie fallow may seem like nothing, but soil must rest to keep from being stripped of the nutrients needed to yield a harvest.  Waiting is an active thing.  We too must wait actively, so James tells us to strengthen our hearts.
During the advent season we celebrate now, leading up to the Birth of Jesus, we remember and we celebrate the coming of Christ.  The Kingdom of the Lord is here!  And we see evidence of the Kingdom in our lives every day if we are awake and aware and ready for the Kingdom.  We talk about a parousia, a second coming, because the Kingdom of the Lord is still being fulfilled.  In time, the Kingdom will come in fullness—a heavenly corn-canning.  Until then, “be patient, beloved… strengthen your hearts.”  Wait actively.

In recognizing that waiting is no easy task, James warns us, “Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged.  See the judge is standing at the doors!”  I have a confession to make.  I’ve been grumbling a lot lately.  It’s more than a little ironic that I’m preaching on patience.  Thank you, God, for this timely message!   But my grumbling doesn’t make anything happen any faster.  I’m still waiting to hear if the Bishop and the Commission on Ministry think I ought to continue onto school to be a priest.  I’m waiting to see if I’ll get into school, and where.  I’m waiting for that handsome man over there to ask my hand in marriage.  Does grumbling help?  No. In fact that handsome man reminds me it is the opposite of helpful.

So what does James suggest instead?  “As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”

Because we only read two passages of Scripture in the 5pm service, I omitted today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah.  But listen now to what the prophet says—listen to one who spoke before Jesus set foot on this earth—listen to all that has since been fulfilled, and to what is being fulfilled today.  Listen so that you may be strengthened in heart, and wait actively.

Isaiah 35

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
3 Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
7 the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,*
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
8 A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,*
but it shall be for God’s people;*
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
9 No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

(A heavenly corn-canning.)

Amen.

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