Alison Montgomery Fischer
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Bakersfield, CA
John 5:19 and Revelation 21:10, 2222:5
One of my favorite healing stories happened in 1994, there was a young father who got very sick and his family was summoned to the hospital to say goodbye. His 8 year old daughter was sitting with their minister who had joined them. While having a hard time processing what was going on, she asked “Is my Daddy really going to die?” The minister responded that he didn’t know and really, only God was in control of that. However, if anyone would have any power in this situation, it was her Dad and he suggested that they go and ask him what he thought. So, they went in and she crawled on the bed and asked him “Daddy, are you going to die like the doctors said? Because we need you here.”
You see, the minister knew that our young father would only have a chance at experiencing the healing power of Christ if he completely changed his life around and devoted all of his energy into being healed. Some might view this minister’s actions of bringing the daughter into the equation as too much a gamble for her emotions, but I find his actions to be biblically founded when referring to today’s Gospel reading. The minister was wise enough to know that the father needed his children to put this battle ahead of him into perspective, so that he would be willing to get up and walk.
In our Gospel today, this location with the pools is believed to have been an area of natural springs rich in minerals that promoted healing for a variety of ailments. The issue was that only the first to be submerged seemed to receive the healing. The sick man’s community would bring him to the area, but no one would help him get to the actual pool in time, and he was being failed in that aspect. So Jesus shows up and see that the order of operation for these healing pools was not meeting the needs and serving the most vulnerable and ill in this community, like our sick man, because they did not have the most efficient support and access to what they needed. Jesus, mind you, being a healer was part of his reputation and he immediately started to improve the situation and change the process. Jesus approached this sick man asking "do you want to be made well?" The sick man’s answer to Jesus conveys his sense of helplessness saying, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus then proceeds to not accept his excuses and prompts the man to "Stand up, take your mat and walk." Surely Jesus provided some type of divine healing but most importantly, Jesus created part of the healing power in the actual patient rather than granting a one sided miracle. This account teaches us that we have to make the first step in wanting to be healed through Christ.
In healing through Christ, it is important to also understand that we are being healed in the ways that God deems necessary, not us. Yes, dramatic miracles happen, but more often than not, God is attempting to heal us through repairing our spirit, motivation, focus, and support to help us navigate the trials of life. Illness, pain, and suffering are unavoidable in this human form; but our faith in Christ, understanding of our role in God’s kingdom, and our being a part of a healthy faith community can allow these trials to become more bearable. As someone who has dealt with lifelong chronic illness and pain, I've always struggled with the concept of miraculous healing because it the big miraculous events seem to be so exclusive, rare, and not very fair to everyone else.
Today's reading though, is something I can more easily wrap my head around. Because no matter if it is physical, emotional, or spiritual healing, Jesus’ divine intervention can only do so much healing without our active participation and devotion. We must have faith and get up and walk and put forth the effort of managing our own obstacles. Notice I used the word “manage”. Sometimes healing through Christ entails accepting that a condition may be chronic or terminal and that is when Christ begins working in every other aspect to allow healing and the ability for the person to live with this diagnosis in whatever capacity they are able to. I know that was the case for me. My physical ailments may never be fully healed but Christ has worked miracles in my heart, soul, and faith which allow me to live with these limitations and use them for ministering better to Christ’s kingdom. It took a long time for me to get there though and to recognize the divinity in being broken.
This empowerment in our own healing makes me think of the Serenity Prayer. If you know it, please join me in saying “God, grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can. And wisdom to know the difference.” Or sometimes, it helps to make the serenity prayer more specific and such as reference back to our scripture, you can think of it as “God, life is really crazy right now and I am trusting that you are in control and your will is being done. I want to be made well and I am prayerfully choosing to be in control of how I can respond to this suffering. So please give me wisdom and courage as I get up and walk.” The serenity prayer is great in allowing us to empower ourselves and our position over our limitations that are beyond our control. It also allows us to separate these factors of our lives from being part of our identity.
Separating our limitations, trauma, and disability can sometimes be incredibly difficult because it is so easy to be consumed and allowed to be defined by the bad and these issues become our identity. It is so easy to only focus on what we cannot do and what we have lost rather that what we have to offer. Losing focus of what God is bringing to us and for us in turn, limits God’s power and grace in our lives. We are human though and being overwhelmed and anxious occurs naturally and quickly. Some of the consuming thoughts that I’ve recently said to myself and have heard by the people surrounding me have consisted of statements such as “I’m all alone.” “I can’t keep up” “I am heartbroken” “My time is almost up” “This pain is destroying me” “I’m afraid my disability defines me” “I made terrible decisions” “I am in need of healing.”
These are statements we have all able to resonate with because this human life on earth is hard! It is important to remember that even Jesus Christ became overwhelmed and cried out on the cross “My God? My God! Why have you forsaken me?”
Oh, it is so easy to think that our God has forsaken us but he has not. God knows how consuming these issues are and he is yearning for us to turn to the Holy Trinity at these moments and listen to what is needed from us to continue to serve with the abilities that we are given. It is our responsibility, not Christ’s, to recognize that we are still obligated to use our talents, time, and energy for the body of Christ on this earth at all times, even when we are broken. I’ll tell you that one of my best coping skills to help me get through the critical and desperate moments in life, especially with health symptoms, is that instead of crying out about being feeling forsaken, I start to pray and make plans with God for future ministry work to do just as soon as we get through that critical moment together. This helps me get through those moments and focus on what I am capable of doing.
The fact is that we are all broken and in need of healing in some manner. And if we choose to engage as a healthy church body, then we have the ability to support each other as we navigate these tough times. I’ve learned that when you are honest with yourself and others about what you are seeking to be made well from, it allows the opportunity to minister one another through our struggles. This community of broken people is quite magnificent and a beautiful example of individuals serving Christ through loving one another. My life has been transformed by witnessing the many faithful disciples living with their suffering and using it to minister to others. I am so inspired by and grateful for members of this church who council each other through medical issues. Jason and I have been humbled to witness the Living Christ through the St. Paul’s COOP members and volunteers who work so hard to create bounty out of rations with each other. I am so inspired by our LGBTI members who minister to each other and their healing journeys as they celebrate their worthiness and holiness as God’s children. It is an honor to be a part of the Daughter’s of the King prayer ministry who work so diligently to prayerfully support our congregation and loved ones.
These few examples are just some of many conveying the significant and exciting ministry occurring at St. Paul’s, but I can’t help to think of who are we leaving behind or forgetting about ? Who are we bringing to the pool but not bringing them into the healing waters? Because there is always someone and it is the obligation to every disciple to be mindful of opportunities to be there for another human being, not just the clergy and staff. As Christ followers, we are all called to minister to another when God is needing us to be the hands and feet of Christ.
The healing journey forces us to reevaluate how we spend our effort and time because we learn that our time on this earth is limited and valuable. I encourage you to please consider how are you serving Christ in your daily choices and actions? How are you choosing to improve yourself, rely on the greater will being done, and choosing to being made well? Even though we may still be suffering, when we say yes to being made well, we are called to get up and walk everyday to serve in the capacity that we are able to do. The beauty of working for God’s kingdom is that our various weaknesses, disabilities, struggles, experiences of healing through the Power of Christ can be used for ministering to others going through similar circumstance. The glory of being healed in the power of Christ is that we all play significant roles in helping one another.
Our Epistle today in Revelations describes the holy city of heaven that “has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” What beautiful imagery! When we choose to be healed in Christ and move towards the light of the kingdom, let us remember that prayerful connectivity is required to understand what is our mission at hand as disciples. We need to discern what effort is needed; whether it is focus, certain actions or words, determination, faith, or celebration as we navigate our journey with Christ. Most importantly, we need to be mindful that God is perhaps providing healing to us in ways we are not necessarily seeking and acknowledging.
Going back to the hospital 22 years ago. You see, I am that girl whose Dad was in need of Christ’s healing. Dad’s miraculous healing seems to have been a combination of divine intervention, excellent medical care, support of his family, and his tremendous amount of Dad’s determination; but he had to make that first effort in acknowledging his role through the healing of Christ. He had to get focused on what he was in control of. Dad has devoted his life to Christ and he has ministered to countless individuals through the years, using his experiences as a ministry tool. That is what we are called to do. Many of us are thankful he chose to be healed and had the opportunity to get up and walk. The minister, Truman Warren and his family continue to be a steady influence in my life as well and he went on to Baptize me. I’ll tell you that I don’t remember much from that day other than many tears and his calming presence. Truman knew his role that day.
Today, I encourage you to self reflect what healing is needed to be done in your life and more importantly, do you want to be made well? Are you willing to get up and walk in the Body of Christ? Sometimes we are limping or needing to be carried ourselves, but we are still moving towards the Light of Christ as a body. As we approach Pentecost, let us be mindful of how are we are ministering to ourselves and each other, because we are all in this healing faith together. Our brothers and sisters are suffering and being abandoned at the side of the pool, let’s bring them in. Amen