Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hey Jesus! Heal Me Already!

Sermon October 25, 2009
by Katie Mulligan

First Scripture Reading: Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Second Scripture Reading: Mark 10:46-52

Happy Reformation Day to you all! This is a day perhaps more celebrated by our Lutheran sisters and brothers, as it has been set aside to honor Martin Luther and the beginning of the Reformation—that’s Reformation with a capital “R”, that church movement in Germany that split away from the Roman Catholic church to become eventually the Lutheran church. But as church splits often do, Martin Luther’s actions motivated and inspired many others to go their own way with regard to faith, and 500 years later (or so) hundreds of protestant sects have sprung up; one of those is the denomination we know as the Presbyterian Church in the USA. Although we usually give more attention to John Calvin in the Presbyterian Church, we owe a great deal to Martin Luther and his followers—if nothing else for having the courage to act on their convictions, despite threats of physical violence, ex-communication, and eternity in hell.

So I’ll tell you a little bit about Martin Luther. And then we’ll wind our way somehow back to the scripture, which is, after all, about healing, restoration, and being saved by our faith. Maybe that’s interesting to you too!

A basic, casual outline of Martin Luther’s life (and if you want to read more, please know that there are possibly as many books written about Martin Luther as there are about Jesus): he was born in 1483 and died at age 62 in 1546. He was born in Germany to hard-working parents, Hans and Margarethe, who sent him to school, determined that he would get an education. Martin, not one to mince words, described those school experiences in less than glowing terms, calling his time at one of those schools “purgatory”. His days at the University of Erfurt were described as “rote learning and often wearying spiritual exercises.” I wonder how many of us might say the same about going to church sometimes!

Martin was supposed to be a lawyer, and even began studies in obedience to his father, but soon philosophy and then scripture called to his heart. One day while traveling he was frightened by a storm and promised to become a monk in exchange for protection from God. Unlike most of us who make such promises, he kept that one. Although, I have to say that I think he may have violated the letter of the law by breaking the church in half! And so Martin’s adventures as a religious man began. Tormented by the impossibility of becoming perfect, he confessed every little sin he committed until even his confessor begged him to find another hobby. Plagued by emotional, spiritual, and physical health problems, he despaired of earning salvation. Until one day, while sitting in the bathroom, he hit upon the inspiration that we are all saved by grace, not by our good works. And thus, they say, the Reformation was born. While researching this sermon, I came across a 2004 press release that said archeologists have actually found the toilet they think Martin was sitting upon. Apparently the bathroom may have had heated floors. (I kind of like this guy) Sometime later, Luther wrote his famous 95 Theses. The traditional account is that he nailed it to the door of the Wittenberg cathedral. Theatrical reproductions swell with magnificent music at the moment that Luther took his sledgehammer and shattered the cathedral door with a railroad spike in order to affix the document to the door, but likely he rather unceremoniously stuck it on the door—I’m guessing he probably re-used a nail that was already stuck in the door—and then walked away without realizing the impact he would have. Some scholars question whether he ever actually nailed it to the door, but today on Reformation Day, we celebrate that moment, October 31, 1517.

I think my point with all of this is that the Reformation began with a man who had very specific earthly, bodily concerns. Sometimes in our high-falutin’ theologically-minded churches, seminaries, sermons, and prayers, we make it seem like all we need is faith and that bodily concerns pale in comparison. After all, we’re saved in the end by faith in Jesus (or faith of Jesus, depending on your translation) so why worry about the daily struggles for emotional and physical health?

One of my teachers opened a theology class once with this prayer:
Bloody Lord, you are just too real. Blood is sticky, repulsive, frightening. We do not want to be stuck with a sacrificial God who bleeds. We want a spiritual faith about spiritual things, things bloodless and abstract. We want sacrificial spirits, not sacrificed bodies. But you have bloodied us with your people Israel and your Son, Jesus. We fear that by being Jesus' people we too might have to bleed. If such is our destiny, we pray that your will, not ours, be done. AMEN (from Prayers Plainly Spoken, by Stanley Hauerwas)

But our protestant faith was never intended to be solely an intellectual or spiritual matter—Luther was an earthy and crass man, who drank too much and ate too much and cursed too much. He was frequently in pain due to physical ailments. His original concern with the Catholic church rested in his disdain for indulgences—the sale of certificates of forgiveness to people who had committed sins in order to raise money for the Pope’s projects. His concern was at least partly that the church was stealing money from his parishioners—this is a very real, material concern!

For those of us who have our own set of physical, very real world concerns, that prayer I just read is disturbing. Blood is not sticky, repulsive, or frightening, it is what gives all of us life. We are bound together as humans by the fact that we do bleed. Those of us with very real ailments are not looking for a bloodless, abstract, intellectual faith. Quite frankly, we are looking for healing and not just salvation. On those days when I am wrapped up in physical or spiritual pain, all I can think of is “Hey Jesus! Heal me, already!” And like Luther on the road in a thunderstorm, I’m willing to trade my soul for it, or at least my vocation.

I say this because both of our scripture stories today are about restoration and healing of physical, bodily things. Our longing to be made whole and well, physically and spiritually is an integral part of our faith. In fact, it may be that the longing for wholeness is in fact the very heart of our faith.

Our first reading was from Job, chapter 42, which came after 41 chapters detailing the miseries of Job and his howling response to the loss of physical, spiritual, and material well-being. From the beginning of the story, we know that Job is a righteous, good man. His afflictions are not caused by sin—rather Job’s righteousness tempted satan (the adversary) to see if he could get Job to renounce God. And so for 41 chapters we hear how Job lost his livestock and money, property and children. We hear how he was covered with boils and sat in an ash heap, mourning his devastation. His own wife said, “Curse God and die!” His friends gathered around and said all the wrong things, deepening his misery. And still, for 41 chapters Job maintained his faith in the face of his misery—believing enough to rant and rave and howl and demand answers. And in the end, Job does not really receive any decent answers. He gets restoration and reparations, but no explanation. God says “Yes, good job on the rant, but no, I’m not going to explain myself.” It is a comfort to me that in the story of Job we find it acceptable to complain about God’s lack of transparency on the subject of human misery.

Our second reading from Mark tells the story of the blind beggar waiting on the side of the road. Discovering that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he started to make a fuss. This was apparently as socially unacceptable two thousand years ago, because the people around him tried to hush him. They tried to hush a blind man, whose life was reduced to begging. Perhaps they were afraid Jesus wouldn’t stop by if this man was being loud and obnoxious. Maybe they were afraid for the beggar’s safety—calling attention to oneself and one’s vulnerabilities can get a person hurt or even dead. So, “Ssssh. Stop making things worse for yourself (and for us)!” But the beggar just got louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And the second time Jesus stopped, called over the beggar, and asked him what he wanted. Voila! Wish granted. The blind man could see again. No confession of sin needed. No requirement to change his life or recite certain prayers. “Your faith has made you well,” Jesus said. And it appears that the blind beggar’s faith took the form of Job’s: daring to yell at God.

So many questions come from this for me—why do some people get made well and others don’t? Why do some of my ailments heal and others linger, eating away at body and soul? What kind of God would allow suffering? What is the power of prayer? Is it like they say on TV that if I pray the right prayer in the right way, I’ll be healed and saved? This hasn’t been my experience, at least not consistently. So what is the point? The main connection I see between the two stories is that healing came after lengthy, loud, and obnoxious complaint. If you need help being loud and obnoxious in your prayers, come see me and I will help you with that!

Perhaps, like Job and the blind man, we might come to understand that the faith that saves and heals us is the act of sharing with God and one another our very real, bodily, material pain. Our laments and our cries join together in prayer, and somehow in the communion of our voices with Christ’s we are saved—from what, I am not exactly sure. Perhaps we are saved from our physical ailments or spiritual depressions. Or perhaps sometimes we are simply saved from being alone in our fear and pain. On this Reformation Day, we celebrate the life of a man who understood that—who understood that pain is real and that somehow our connection to one another through God helps. Knowing that like Job we do not fully understand the ways of this world or God’s mind, and knowing that like the blind man we all are in need of healing, let us come together in prayer and shake the heavens with our laments and requests for healing. It is only right that we do so. And may we go from here in peace until we meet again.


  1. Thank you, Autumn, for your words here and your encouragement this morning!