“Healing…” – Gospel and Sermon for Sunday May 22, 2022

The manuscript for the sermon is below:

In 1992, the band REM released the song “Everybody Hurts.”  It’s different than most of REM’s songs.  The lead singer’s voice is very clear in this song.  He wanted to make sure everyone heard and understood what he was singing.  

The song is an anti-suicide song.  The lyrics are powerful, emotional, and speak right to the heart.  So powerful that the song has literally saved people’s lives.  Michael Stipe, the lead singer, was interviewed about the song and said this, “It saved a few. People have told me. And I love hearing that. That’s for me, that’s my Oscar, that’s my gold on a shelf right there… that something we did impacted someone’s life in such a profound way. That’s a beautiful thing.” Indeed, it is.  

We have a hurting world and society.  Our hurts are often out in the open and on full display for everyone to see as a society.  Just watch the news, read a paper, check out a social media or news sites, or listen to the gossip around us.  There’s a lot of hurt around us.  And it can feel overwhelming.  What exactly are we supposed to do in the midst of so much hurt and pain and suffering?  We can’t solve it all and often we think that we don’t even make a tiny dent with our efforts.  

Everybody hurts.  Are we even willing to acknowledge our own hurts and pain?  

I’m currently reading the book “When Narcissism comes to church,” by Chuck DeGroat.  In it he quotes the 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon who once said “Appear to be what thou art, tear off thy masks.  The church was never meant to be a masquerade.  Stand out in thy true colors.”

How many of us are hurting?  And trying to cope alone?  There’s a variety of reasons.  Maybe we think that sharing that pain and hurt out in the open with others is a sign of weakness or is somehow attached with shame.  Or because it might shatter the façade we’ve spent so long building – you know the façade – that everything is just fine.  I have it all together.  Just look at my life.  Nothing is ever wrong or out of place.  What will people think if I show my pain and hurt, my brokenness?  What will people say?  

I don’t know, maybe people will see the real you, not the mask that we put on to hide what’s really going on.  Maybe that’s our real fear – showing who we really are.  Or maybe we’re afraid that if we share our pain with others, everything will fall apart once we let go of the smallest amount, we might not be able to stop it.  The whole house of cards of what we present ourselves to be will come tumbling down.  And then they’ll see our real brokenness and pain.  Our humanness.  

Sharing our pain and hurt with others, especially in the church, is all about being highly vulnerable with others.  The church is the body of Christ.  A community of believers.  It’s supposed to be vulnerable.  And not just with a pastor, but with each other.  We all need a community we can trust and will stand with us in the midst of pain and suffering and brokenness.  

Martin Luther wrote about the marks of the church.  The seventh mark he called suffering.  He wrote, “The holy Christian people are externally recognized by the possession of the sacred cross. They must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh.” Since the servant was not greater than the master, as Jesus had taught, the church would suffer in this world as it served Christ faithfully.  (Source – https://www.ligonier.org/posts/martin-luthers-7-characteristics-church).

Luther didn’t mean that we are to suffer individually.  There’s nothing singular about what he said.  It’s communal all the way through.  Parts of the body don’t suffer individually.  When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer.  We suffer together.  When there is healing, there is healing for all, together.  That’s what Jesus’ healing miracles are all about – not just individual healings for just individuals.  But rather, when Jesus heals a person, he is healing a community, repairing it, restoring it, making reparation to it, and making it whole.  

Revelation 22 paints an incredible picture for us of what this looks like.  It’s a vision of God and eternity, for sure.  But it’s also a guide for us here and now.  The beauty of Revelation 22, the very end of Revelation and our Bibles, is that what John is writing is the correction for the pain and suffering that started it off back in Genesis 3, way back at the beginning of Scripture.  

In Genesis 3 we hear about the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  The fruit from the tree is appealing and Adam and Eve take and eat of it.  The serpent stuck it in their head that they were missing out on something – that they weren’t enough.  And after they ate, they realized they were naked.  And what is nakedness?  It’s ultimate vulnerability – seeing what we really are.  

And what do they do as a result?  They cover up that vulnerability.  They buy into the serpent’s line that they aren’t enough and in so doing, they reject who they are and they reject God.  They weave leaves together to cover up and create a false image of who they are.  Something not made in the image of God.  They use the leaves not to heal but to hide.  They point fingers, blame, and deflect, not offer confession and receive forgiveness, which is what actually heals and makes whole. The leaves from the tree is used to put on a mask, to hide, to separate, to be alone in suffering.  

But what we read in Revelation is the reversal of all of that.  The angel shows John in this great vision the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.  And on either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; And here’s the highlight – the leaves of the tree are the healing of the nations.  

The leaves of the tree are no longer used to cut off vulnerability, to cover up, to put on a mask and hide.  Rather the leaves are for the healing of the nations.  A healing ointment.  Healing only happens if there is recognition of pain and suffering.  Healing only happens when we embrace the vulnerability to recognize who are and that we are enough, God made us to be enough – even with our brokenness.  We don’t need to be more.  

Healing can only happen if those responsible for the pain and suffering in society stop and recognize that what they are doing is causing pain and suffering.  Healing can only happen when there is a desire to repair.  And that doesn’t happen alone.  Throughout Revelation, we hear about the multitudes and the great city.  Healing – real healing – happens when it impacts everyone.  And that requires vulnerability.  Dropping our masks.  It requires trust.  It’s what it means that the church is a community of faith, the body of Christ – not seeking leaves to cover up pain and suffering, but seeking leaves designed for healing.  

What healing do we need and what would it look like?  What would it look for us and for our society?  Are we going to use the leaves to cover up or for healing?

We need healing from the corrosiveness of anger and fear that floods our nation and communities, our social media and news, our devices and our conversations, what we see and what we hear.  Healing for our anger and fear and in their place to flood us with grace and mercy, forgiveness and listening, vulnerable trust and building up of communities to create hope and vision for the present and future.  

We need healing in our politics and from partisanship that seeks to divide people into us and them, friend and foe, right and wrong, patriot and enemy.  Healing that ends labeling designed to easily dismiss and dehumanize, and in its place seeing the image of God in others and seeing how connected we actually are, and how much we need one another.  

Healing from COVID-19 that has claimed over 1 million of our fellow citizens and many millions worldwide and is not done.  Healing that moves our society from just individual concerns to seeing that societies function and thrive when we work together and care about each other. 

Healing from racism and white supremacy that claimed 11 more lives last week in two mass shootings.  Healing that sheds light on the long pain and suffering that is unfortunately nothing new and has been going on for a long, long time – whether it shows up as racially motivated shootings, lynchings, segregation, Jim Crow laws, restricting civil rights, or enslavement.   We need healing that moves us to take action to put an end to this long line of hurt and injustice once and for all and to begin to repair lives and communities, so that the nation can be healed and we can live into the ideals that we have been claiming since our founding. 

Healing in our financial systems for those in poverty who only get help if they fit certain convoluted definitions and can figure out how to fill in 25-page applications all while being hungry and wondering where their kids are going to sleep tonight.  Healing that helps us to see the worth and value of people not based on what they produce, but because they are made in the image of God.  Healing that opens our eyes to the systems and traps that keep people in poverty in spite of their efforts.  Healing that releases people from the bondage of poverty and offers true rest. 

Healing from abuses that people have suffered – whether those abuses be physical, sexual, mental, emotional, or spiritual in nature.  Healing that not only ends abuse, but creates environments where abuse won’t happen, where there can be vulnerable trust and safety.  

Healing from mental health challenges that impact the lives of so many and are often used to blame societal problems on.  Healing for those contemplating suicide or harm to themselves because they are in so much pain and feel like they have no way out.  Healing that lets people know they are not alone in their suffering.  That they are loved.  

Healing from a synthetic drug problem in our country which claimed a record 100,000 lives last year.  Healing that substitutes in the leaves from the tree of life that offer healing in place of drugs that cover the pain and suffering of so many in so many ways.  

Healing from belief systems that are based on the ends justifying the means, that might makes right, and where only the strong survive – in essence making everyone expendable.  Healing that releases the addiction to control others, so that we all might thrive and know what true freedom means.  Healing that follows Jesus’ way of peace – where the means are as important as the ends, where care for the weak and outcast is of utmost importance for society, and where living the way of peace becomes more important than making sure that others have the right ideas and beliefs.  Healing in so many other ways. 

There was great pain and suffering in John’s world when he was inspired to write Revelation.  He and the churches he wrote too we under the thumb of the Roman Empire, complete with its systems of abuse, exploitation, death, destruction, and control.  Its why John called it the beast.  And in the midst of that John writes to these communities to remind them that they are not alone in their suffering and pain.  And that there is a vision of hope.  There is healing.  

John described the healing coming through the holy city, the New Jerusalem – it’s the very contrast with the empire that was very real and present in their lives.  And the city of God wouldn’t have the false gods that empire worships, the lies and abuse, and the pain and suffering that the empire caused.  

Instead, it has God in the middle of it.  Shedding light for all to see.  It is be based on truth.  It is based on care and concern for all.  Glory and honor are in the city because it follows the way of God.  And in the middle of the city John is shown the river of the water of life, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city.  And on either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  

We are in a different place and time.  But we are in great pain and suffering.  And revelation speaks to us of a great vision that doesn’t prop up the ways of the world, but rather casts a light and a vision of hope for us.  A vision of healing.  A vision of God with us, stopping the pain and suffering in our midst, right now.  A vision of light shining and exposing systems that hurt and cause pain so that they can be ended.  A vision of the river of life that provides healing water for us.  A vision of the tree of life with leaves for the healing of the nations.  A healing that offers peace, trust, community, and so much more.  A vision of not only what is possible, but what we are invited to.  What does healing look like to you?  What is God presenting to us as the holy city and the leaves from the tree that offers healing?  Look around.  What is God revealing to us? 

Everybody hurts.  But God offers something greater – healing.  God invites us into healing.  The leaves from the tree that are for the healing of the nations are right there for us to use.  To begin the healing.  Thanks be to God.  

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