The healing miracles of Jesus are remarkable stories that help us recognize Jesus and understand our relationship with him. Healing is an interesting concept that often includes differences in understanding. The dictionary defines healing as:
- To restore to health or soundness; to cure.
- To ease or relieve, as in emotional restoration.
- To set right; to repair.
As Christians, we include our physical and spiritual well-being in the concept of healing. We understand that God heals and God equips human beings to heal. We also use the image of healing to describe how relationships are put back together after crisis. We describe relationships as “healthy” or “unhealthy”. We ask God to help us heal broken relationships. It is apparent that our understanding of healing connects us as Christians. Our desire for healing connects us to the world in which we live. We are connected in faith.
On the eve of our Annual Conference it seems appropriate that we talk about our connection. Today’s text offers us a chance to see how we are connected in faith. The connection in today’s story seems to be born out of an unlikely relationship. The Centurion serves in the Roman army; he is part of the occupying military force. He is an outsider in every sense. Yet the people of the town come to his aid by speaking to Jesus on his behalf. It is a remarkable story that asks us to consider what our connections through faith in Jesus might mean in terms of unity that transcends all other divisions that may separate us. This healing miracle is really the result of a community effort. The Centurion first enlists a group of Jewish leaders to speak to Jesus on his behalf. They are willing to help because this foreigner has forged a bond with the community. In spite of their differences, they can respect each other in principle. Then the man sends a group of his friends to intercept Jesus and dissuade him from coming. Recognizing the paradox in all of this, the Centurion confesses that it is enough for Jesus to simply, “say the word and my servant will be healed.” This shows tremendous faith; in fact, it is stronger faith than Jesus finds among his own people.
It is important that we notice that the Centurion is speaking on behalf of someone who has no voice in society – a slave. Setting aside our contemporary opinions of slavery, we should recognize that, when our faith is enacted on behalf of another, it celebrates our web of human connectedness. Especially in times of illness and tragedy, we see that this is the imperative of faith-living in the world. We are connected in faith, even with those who do not share all that we believe. Do we regularly speak to Jesus on behalf of people with whom we disagree? Can we recognize that God loves all people, even those who think differently from us? Can we find ways to focus on areas where we share common ground as a way of letting go of the things that divide us? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I think we all need to spend time thinking about the possibilities. In our culture and in our church, the things that divide us will destroy us if we allow them to define us.
Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of the UM Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, spoke last week to a group of seminary students attending the General Conference in Portland. He talked about what he calls, “The Radical Center”, that recognizes that there is almost always truth on both sides of every divide. If the two would come together seeking a middle way, the via media, they would find the strengths on both sides and be able to achieve more effective relationships. This theory is true in civil government, in church administration, and in our personal relationships.
The question is often distilled into this: “Are you liberal or conservative?” For most people, the answer is probably: “Yes, of course.” “Liberal” comes from the Latin word for “freedom”. It means to be generous, willing to share; open to reform; open to new ideas. Who doesn’t want to be that? This term is often associated with people who are interested in individual rights and freedoms; and in social justice issues. “Conservative” comes from the word that means to conserve or preserve. It refers to traditional values; things that were important and still are, even if they aren’t “in style” anymore. It means to be careful how we spend our money; to be responsible (good stewards) of the assets given to you. Who doesn’t want to be that?
As United Methodists, at our best, we are sometimes liberal-conservatives and sometimes we are conservative-liberals. We embrace both the Evangelical Gospel and the Social Gospel. The Evangelical Gospel says that there is something in us that needs to be healed/repaired; we call that “sin”. Christ came to redeem us and we are transformed by our relationship with Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Social Gospel says that this salvation is not just about getting us into heaven. It’s about our transformation so that we might also be part of God’s strategic plan to heal a broken world. We seek to be “both-and,” rather than, “either-or”.
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Movement wrote:
“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.”
In a world where division threatens to destroy our country, and in a denomination where division threatens to break our connection, can we find ways to recognize those things that bind us together? Can we see that our faith in Jesus Christ is enough to withstand whatever cultural warfare throws at us? Can we believe that our church is stronger than any social justice debate that distracts us? I believe that many people have allowed concerns for the present world to cloud their vision of God’s world yet to be. We have lost sight of God’s vision and, therefore, no longer depend on God for answers to our questions and solutions for our problems. We are a self-sufficient and self-absorbed society where God is no longer the center of our universe.
Paul wrote to the Roman church: “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
I am convinced, church, that our connection in faith is stronger than any other power. That strength comes from “the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Everything we read in the Bible, every lesson we learn, and every miracle healing that Jesus shows us, point to the same thing – God’s love. God’s love leads us to connect with each other, not reject people with whom we disagree. God’s love leads us to see the whole of humanity as God’s good creation and seek ways to reconcile and heal relationships. Jesus reveals a God who loves and cares for all of humanity and expects us to do the same. Our connection to God’s love through faith in Jesus Christ is all that matters. A contentious political season with campaign promises, name-calling drama, and rioting crowds cannot stand against us. Debates over same-gender marriage, equal rights, and whose lives matter will not overcome God’s love. Absolutely nothing can separate us because of who unites us. If we are truly connect in our faith in Jesus Christ, then we must listen and remember the command he gave: Love God. Love Others. Change the World.” In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.