Sermon July 7 2019
I have been watching a documentary called Sacred Journeys. Sacred Journeys is a series about pilgrimages. This week, I watched a journey to the Shrine at Lourdes, France. My interest in Lourdes had been raised because someone mentioned to me that his trip to Lourdes had been very meaningful. I hope someday my friend will share the details of his journey to Lourdes.
Each spring, tens of thousands of soldiers from all over the world come to Lourdes seeking peace and reconciliation. The video showcased forty American soldiers who had been injured in either the Iraq War or the War in Afghanistan. The injuries caused them physical problems but they spoke of mental and emotional problems as well. Many had lost fellow soldiers in the same incident that they were injured. They missed their companions.
The reasons the soldiers gave for taking a pilgrimage to Lourdes were many. Some were hopeful that they would have physical healing. Some were looking for solace in the deaths of their fellow soldiers. Some were looking for the strength to deal with their injury. Some could not express exactly why they were there. Many were not Catholic. They sought companionship from soldiers who had experienced the horrors of war. They seek seek some kind of healing.
I remember that one man had been blinded by a bomb. It was his second trip to Lourdes. His eyesight had not been restored but he did say that he better accepted the injury he sustained. He seemed more at peace. Near the end of the journey most of the soldiers were bathed in the waters of Lourdes and most of them said they were changed, everyone in a different way.
The narrator interviewed a doctor who was in charge of following up on healings that happened at Lourdes. He never said that a miracle had occurred but his team carefully studies and documents the results of what people claimed was a healing and it seems to me that several of the cases demonstrated that something beyond human medical skills caused the healing. The documentary about the soldiers going to Lourdes fits well with our Scripture lessons today and it fits with the theme of pilgrimage that I introduced last week.
All of us are on a pilgrimage, a journey through life. I hope that this Pentecost season you will take some time to reflect on how God might help you with a particular issue. Our lessons focus on physical healing, but God can heal us in many ways.
In the first lesson, Naaman took a pilgrimage from Syria to Israel. He was the commander of a powerful army but he suffered from leprosy, some kind of permanent skin condition. A young slave girl from Israel suggested that Naaman take the journey. Based on her recommendation, Naaman went carrying a boatload of treasure to pay for his healing. Naaman first asked the king if he could be cured. The king thought his request was a trick. Elisha stepped in and the king sent Naaman to Elisha. When Naaman came to Elisha’s house, Elisha didn’t come out to see him but sent a message that Naaman should go wash in the Jordan seven times. Naaman got angry. Naaman felt entitled to better treatment. He thought his powerful position earned him more than he received from Elisha. He thought money could buy the work of a prophet. He didn’t understand the concept of being humble that is found throughout Hebrew Scripture. Naaman thought His god was as good as the God of Israel. Naaman thought the cure was too simple to be effective. Despite his reservations and at the urging of his servants, Naaman took the chance and was healed. He was humbled and thankful. His pilgrimage changed him, healing his leprosy and his heart. He declared the God of Israel to be the one true God.
Is there anything that keeps you from the healing power of God’s love? For Naaman, it was his pride and power and his feeling that he could do anything that almost kept him from being healed. The things that keep us from God’s healing power may be different. They may even keep us from starting a pilgrimage. One that comes up frequently is our sense that we alone make things happen. Or we may rely on the science of humankind to find our cure. Naaman desperately wanted to be healed. Do we need to be in desperate conditions to go on our pilgrimage? I don’t think so.
The theme of God’s love for us and God’s healing for us is found in the Psalm as well. “ O Lord my God, I cried out to you, and you restored me to health. You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave”. Let us never be afraid to ask God to restore us, to bring us back to life.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It began with the statement that he set his face towards Jerusalem. As he continued on that journey, he decided to send his disciples out to share the good news and to offer healing. They were to go out and prepare villages for a visit from Jesus. And they were being prepared for the time when he would no longer be there.
There seems to be a sense of urgency about this commission and a sense of simplicity. They were to go without money to buy themselves a room. They were not to greet strangers on the road. They were to go to the same house and immediately declare “Peace to this House”. There were no conditions upon which the disciples were to offer this peace. Peace was given whether the occupant was a Jew or a Gentile, whether the persons living there were faithful or not, regardless of their social position. They were to eat whatever was set before them. It did not matter if the food was prepared in a kosher way. It did not matter how it tasted. When the disciple offered peace to a given house, we are told that if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.”
Did you notice that Jesus said, if anyone shares in peace then your peace will rest on that person? I am certain it means God’s peace. But it also means that once we have been given the Peace of God, then we carry that peace with us, we share it with others. Yes, it is God’s peace but others experience God’s peace through the peace that they see in us. We should be careful because when the disciples told Jesus they had been successful, he reminded them that they were not to take credit for what they had done. Rather, they were to be thankful that God had given them his grace and that they were certain of their own place in God’s heavenly kingdom. Just as Naaman struggled with his sense of importance in the world, the disciples also risked the possibility that they too would lose their heads over the healing that Jesus offered people through them.
There are many messages to be found in these readings. I suggest we focus on two of them. The first is that God’s healing is available to everyone. It doesn’t matter what position we hold or how faithful we have been in the past. It matters that we accept God’s peace when it is offered to us. So, if you are on a journey I hope that you listen and look for God’s presence, for you never know where and when you will be offered God’s peace and you certainly don’t know from whom that peace will come. When we set out on a pilgrimage, we try to eliminate all of the barriers that keep us from experiencing God’s peace. We focus on living and being and listening on our own daily adventures.
The second message is connected to the first, it is all about faith. Naaman had faith in Israel’s God after he was healed of his leprosy. The villagers who were visited by the disciples had faith when they were given God’s peace by the disciples. In each case, the one who was healed had a choice. Naaman decided to believe in God. The villagers indicate their faith by offering peace in return.
When we have experienced the presence of God, we are encouraged to share it with others just as the disciples of Jesus did. We often struggle with how to encourage others to come to Jesus. Maybe it really is as simple as saying Peace be to this house, just as the disciples did.
God’s gift of healing for us may come in a way that we least expect it. Many of the visitors to Lourdes express the sense that they have received healing but find it difficult to describe exactly what that is. That may happen to us or maybe it has already happened to us. It is one of the reasons that we offer thanks to God for all that we have been given.
As you continue on your pilgrimage or journey, may I suggest that you be open to God’s healing power in your life. I believe that you will receive healing is God’s way even though it may not be your way. Amen.
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