The Lessons of the Day: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71; Hebrews 12:18-29; and Luke 13:10-17. The sermon was preached in the weeks after surgery to remove a cancerous tumor on my neck.
First, thank you all for your prayers, and kind remembrances during and after my recent surgery.
As I looked in the mirror I noticed the wound at the base of my neck – 4 inches, closely knit together with stitches. Even after the stitches have come out, I can still feel the tightness of the scar. It felt, at first, a bit surreal – the surgery – maybe it was the anesthesia wearing off, or the pain medication – but it was like the fading of a dream. If it wasn’t for the scars – I might not believe. But there they are – the scars: one on the front of the neck, and two smaller on the back and side. Oh, I have other scars, on my knee where my ACL was repaired, and my leg from when I broke my femur. But, this scar is the most noticeable, and the most recent.
Do you have any scars? Scars from physical wounds – maybe a mishap as a child, or the slip of tool at work, or maybe you had some surgery to fix an ailment. Or, maybe you have a different kind of scar that isn’t physical, but emotional or spiritual. Have you been cut deeply by someone, jilted in love, betrayed by a friend? Or do you have a wound and a scar created by loss? Most of us bear some sort of scars!
As I looked in the mirror I noticed the wound at the base of my neck, I was reminded of Thomas. We call him “doubting” Thomas, don’t we, because he wanted to see for himself the mark of the nails, to feel the mark or the scar of the nails and the wound in Jesus’ side. We call Thomas “doubting” but I wonder if that is completely fair. AsI looked at my own scar, I wondered if maybe the point of Jesus’ encounter with Thomas in John 20 is just this: To know the reality of Jesus’ wounds and the scars that he bore for us. To know the very reality of the incarnation, God became one of us, Emmanuel. And, lest this become a saccharin Christmas sermon, the deepest reality of the incarnation is found in Jesus’ suffering, in his wounds, in the marks of the nails and his pierced side. For Thomas, it is about discovering the great offering of Jesus – the giving of himself in love of us, that leads him to proclaim “My Lord and my God.”
As I looked in the mirror I noticed the wound at the base of my neck, I was reminded of Thomas and I was drawn to Jesus precisely because of Jesus’ wounds. I was, you see, reminded of my own humanity. The marks of the scalpel, like the marks of the nails, are a reminder.
Whether by divine chance, spiritual guidance, or my own reading into the text, the collect and readings from today speak to this very same reality.
Jeremiah is called to be a prophet; but, he protests that he doesn’t know how to speak well, and is merely a boy. Jeremiah points out the “wounds” and “scars” that prevent him. But God has already looked deeply into those so-called wounds – even before Jeremiah was formed in the womb. God uses Jeremiah, uses his humanity to be a voice to proclaim the truth everywhere. It was God who put the right words into his mouth. So, in the tradition of the great Biblical prophets, Jeremiah goes to “destroy and overthrow; to build and to plant.” Jeremiah teaches us that God’s power is not always found in those who are mighty, wealthy or politically adroit.
Then, in the Letter to the Hebrews, the author reminds his audience of the same experience that Thomas had: namely, that the “sprinkled blood” – the blood that flowed from Jesus wounds – is a sure sign of his incarnate love, and his mediation in the covenant.
The Gospel Lesson focuses on the healing of a woman on the Sabbath. Notice the words that the evangelist uses: Jesus saw her…. Jesus called to her …. Jesus set her free … And immediately she stood up … While there is much to be made of the second part of the Gospel reading today in which we read of an encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees, I will leave that for another time. It was this first part, the healing of the woman, that struck me so heavily this week.
Notice what happens. First, Jesus notices her ailment. He sees her and finds out what is wrong. Do we notice wounds and scars? Do we know our own woundedness, and accept our own scars? Do we even dare to look at and to touch the wounds and scars that cover the landscape of our communities, that mark the bodies and souls of our neighbors?
Next, Jesus calls to her by name. Have we listened for own names being called out by Jesus? Maybe, the voice of a friend or loved one or a neighbor has been calling out to us, to be for us the hands and feet and heart of Jesus. Do we allow ourselves to be invited, and do we dare accept the invitation? Do we have the courage to invite the wounded into our midst, and to look upon their scars? Or does fear keep us from invitation and welcome?
Finally, Jesus heals her. When we invite, and welcome others, do we offer healing and wholeness? Is your home and is this church a place of reconciliation and renewal? I can say this: You saw my marks – proverbially, of course, and you called out ( with notes, and with meals, and prayers), and you have sought to make me whole. Thank you!