Epiphany IV – February 1, 2015
Holy Release: Healing Towards Wholeness
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
“Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God… – Madeleine L’Engle
The unclean spirit was certainly aware of God’s presence in Jesus. The voice said, “What have you to do with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the holy one of God.” With just a few simple words Jesus commanded the spirit to leave. There was no prayer, no incantation, no formula. Jesus said, “Be still and come out of the man.” …and the unclean spirit convulsed and cried out and did what Jesus commanded.
We know very little about the unnamed man. We know that when Jesus entered the temple the man was possessed. We also know that at the end of the scene… the man was free of the unclean spirit… It may be that the man’s purpose in the story is to be somewhat of a prop for Mark’s larger goal of showing that Jesus’ ministry is kicking into full gear. He authority cannot be denied…. it is felt by those who are in his presence, and it certainly sparked the attention and ire of the unclean spirit.
But I have to wonder about the unnamed man. Who was he? Was he young or old… Did he wander in off the street? Was he a known entity around town or was he a stranger. Was he part of the temple staff? …and how long had he been possessed? Was the unclean spirit with him his whole life? Did it slip into the man that very afternoon? I especially want to know what the man’s life was like after the spirit left him. We have no clues in the story… but the implication is that the exorcism was a kind of healing… that the spirit that had bound the man had let go and released… and that with release… it was now possible… for the unnamed man to emerge from the shadows and begin to fill out and into the corners of his being that had been previously occupied by torment. With the spirit gone the man’s own presence, his own full self, could re-emerge and return. Did it return? We don’t know.
Years back I was working in the cardiac catheterization lab as part of a team who assisted cardiologists in performing coronary angiograms… those procedures in which a tube, or catheter is threaded up into heart and dye injected into coronary arteries to look for narrowings and blockages. Patients would be awake throughout the procedure having to lay still on a hard x-ray table. They would be blanketed with sterile blue drapes and hooked up to heart monitors that emitted a constant rhythm of crisp beeps. During the actual procedure x-ray equipment would be positioned and repositioned around the patient to capture images of the heart from different angles. During each injection of dye the cardiologist would use a foot pedal activate the x-rays that, at the same time, dimmed the overhead lights. For the procedure the crew would don caps, masks, gloves and leaded glasses to protect our eyes from x-ray exposure. On top of heavy leaded aprons we wore surgical gowns. As alien as the environment sounds we did our best to help the patient feel comfortable and at ease. We would let them know what was going to happen next, ask how they were doing, and try to create an atmosphere of calm. The team strove to be very present to the patient. This was not difficult… most of the time.
One memory has stayed with me these many years. About all I can remember, of this one patient, is that she was a small shell of woman… and that throughout my time with her in the cath lab that day… I had to struggle, really struggle, to remember that she was there. It was almost as though she had little or no presence. Whether it was me or her she felt somewhat invisible to me and that I had to call myself, my presence, back again, and again, willing my own awareness of her… because to me… she felt very absent. What was this about? How could it be? My mind went to thoughts of possible causes… and, of course I couldn’t know, … but I wondered… was it a paralyzing fear of being in a hospital? Had she known some form of abuse? Had she survived trauma by developing an ability to be able to withdraw and become somewhat invisible? Was she gripped by scars that bound her spirit? I could be so very wrong about any of these conjectures but as I was studying today’s lesson… and thinking about what might have become of the unnamed man in Mark’s story… and thinking about what might have happened to him after the spirit left him… the image of this seeming wisp of a patient, lying on the cath lab table, came to mind. The healing of the once possessed man now allowed his return. The woman seemed, in my perception, to be in the grips of absence and in need of hearing the call to life. Certainly there are times, in most of our lives, when we are bound and gripped by pain and grief… and residual scars. Sometimes pain shocks us awake like a splash of ice cold water in the our face. Sometimes we retreat and go into hiding.
One of my favorite courses in seminary was entitled “Prayer and Human Wholeness.” The ministry of our professor, Flora Wuellner, focused on Christ’s healing presence. We have all known pain and wounding in some form. Some wounds that we carry are deep. We also each carry unique gifts… What stays with me is Professor Wuellner’s message that our greatest gifts often dwell right next to our deepest wounds… and that healing and release have to do with allowing Christ to work in us… we don’t will the healing… we invite the great healer to enter the corners of our pain, to places where we, ourselves, may fear to enter. We don’t will the healing… we release into Christ… that we may be called back to the journey towards wholeness and to the expression of our gifts.
I think of my own heartbreak… the deepest wound of my life experienced in the loss of my marriage. At first it was hard to breathe and it felt as though there was a gaping hole in my chest… but over time my breath returned and the wound became smaller. I wanted the healing to happen more quickly than it did, but it took its own time. I have been forever changed by this experience. There will always be a scar. But I now wear that scar as a badge of my life experience… like large tortoises who can live more than a century. They can bear many marks and scars that have been collected over the course of a long life… they are badges of experience. And what about the gifts that dwell next to our deepest wounds? I know that for me, my return to life has given me the gift of patience with others who are hurting. I know that there are no simple words or formulas that will take away another’s pain… and that it is not any power of mine that promotes healing… it is God working in us who calls us to life, who calls us to be unbound, who enters into our fears and shines healing light on our wounds calling forth new life, and healing, that our gifts may be further revealed and used for God’s purposes… all in the authority of Christ’s healing presence.
I would like to share one of Professor Wuellner’s meditations from her book “Prayer, Fear, and our Powers: Finding our Healing Release and Growth in Christ.”
The risen, living Christ
Calls me by name;
Comes to the loneliness within me;
Heals that which is wounded in me;
Comforts that which grieves in me;
Seeks for that which is lost within me;
Releases me from that which has dominion over me;
Cleanses me of that which does not belong to me;
Renews that which feels drained within me;
Awakens that which is asleep in me;
Names that which is formless within me;
Empowers that which is newborn within me.
C.S. Lewis has written:
The things Jesus tells us are very different from what any other teacher has said. Others say, ‘This is the truth about the Universe. This is the way you ought to go.’ But he says: ‘I am the Truth, and the Way and the Life… No [one] can reach absolute reality, except through me… Your sins, all of them are wiped out. I can do that. I am Re-birth… Eat me. Drink me. I am your food… do not be afraid, I have overcome the whole Universe.
God is more than idea… God is the power that calls us back to life… as individuals, as a community… as a larger humanity that is hungry for peace and healing. As Christians we know God in Christ. May we continue to surrender the whole of our being into Christ’s holy, life-giving presence and allow the love… that is forever seeking us… heal us into wholeness.
 Flora Slosson Wuellener, Prayer, Fear, and Our Powers: Finding Our Healing, Release, and Growth in Christ, Upper Room Books, Nashville, 1989, pg. 47.