I believe you can find God everywhere. You can experience God’s love up in your relationships with others. You can see the wonder of God’s creation up on the top of Mt. Snow. You can hear words of comfort from God in books or music. And you can find God’s hope in the most unexpected places.
I don’t believe that church is the only place where you can find God. We don’t have a monopoly on God, and God doesn’t live here and here alone. And so, sometimes when people tell me that they can find God without walking into church I tell them that I agree, and they grow confused and asked, “Well, what’s the point of church then?”
I think there are a lot of reasons to go to church, personally, but today I want to talk about one. And this reason has to do with what it means to be in community when time are hard. It has to do with where we turn when our pain, or grief, or sadness are too much. And it has to do with being a part of Christ’s body together, even when that body is going through some tough times.
But first, let’s look at the passage I just read. It’s from the Old Testament, and it comes from a prophet named Isaiah. Isaiah was probably actually several different prophets who writing to the people of Israel during a particularly difficult time. The part we read today takes place during the Babylonian Captivity, a time when the Jewish people were under the rule of the Babylonians, and taken from their land. And this part is meant to comfort them, and promise that something new is about to happen.
The chapter we read today is towards the end of that middle passage of the book, the one that promises something better. And in it, the prophet is telling the people that it’s going to get better. He tells them, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. If you are hungry, come and eat, even if you don’t have anything to give. God is going to make a covenant with you. God is going to bring you mercy.
Isaiah talks about the snow and the rain and he says that even though they fall, they also nourish the earth, and create new life. He talks about the mountains and hills bursting into song, and the trees clapping their hands, and the people going out with joy. And he talks about thorns and briers giving way to flowers. He’s talking about the pain being transformed into new life.
So what does this have to do with us today? This is where that first thing I was talking about comes into play. This is where being the body of Christ when times get tough matters. This is where we claim God’s promise of transforming the broken and painful and difficult places into places of joy, and we do it together.
I’ve been your pastor for almost three years now. And in that time, I can’t remember another time when we have had so many people in pain, or in grief, or in a time of hard transition. I can’t think of another time when we’ve had so many people in need of such healing.
I can’t name all the ways this is happening right now, both for confidentiality sake and for time sake, but so many we love are fighting a hard battle right now, in some way or another. There are new diagnoses and surgery. The loss of a loved one, and grief. Struggles with depression, or recovery, or anxiety. Changing relationships, changing job situations, changing abilities, and changing lives. There is a lot going on, and some of it, probably only the person going through it knows about.
And that’s why today I want to do something a little different in worship. I want to talk about healing, and I want for us to pray for healing for everyone who needs it.
Now, when I hear the words “healing service” my first thoughts are not very positive ones. I think about the services that televangelists in the 80’s sometimes had where someone would come onstage and they would reach out their hands and cry “be healed!” and then suddenly the person would be knocked to the floor and rise again without their crutches, or suddenly be able to see again, or hear again. I thought it was hokey and fake back them, and I’d still run the other way today from any preacher who told me they could do that. Because healing doesn’t work that way.
There’s a difference between being healed, and everything being changed back to how it was before. When we are healed, the bones don’t unbreak, the depression doesn’t immediately lift, the cancer doesn’t suddenly reverse course and leave our bodies the way we were before. The ones we love don’t come back.
Healing is different than that. And at first glance that might make it a little disappointing. It’s not a quick fix. What it is is a way to ask for God’s love to be with us especially during a difficult time. It’s a way of acknowledging that we need something more than ourselves when things get really bad. And it’s a way of being open to what the Holy Spirit is able to do to transform those places where the pain and the brokenness are happening.
In the passage that we read, the prophet doesn’t try to turn back time and say “it’s going to be like this whole Babylonian Captivity thing never happened.” Instead, Isaiah says, God is going to transform this. God is going to take the places of pain and make them places of beauty. God is going to make the mountains sing out and trees clap their hands, and you are maybe even going to be filled with joy.
And for those of you who are here today, who throughout the week, maybe quietly, without anyone else knowing are fighting a hard battle, that means you. And that means that today, you are in a place with a lot of other people who might not know exactly what you are going through, but who have some idea, and want to travel this path with you.
That’s the beauty of church. When the hardest times in our life come, we have a community that surrounds us. More than that, the body of Christ surrounds us, and it pays attention, and journeys with us.
I sometimes get called by hospitals or by funeral homes when someone is sick or someone has passed away and the family has no faith community. And I’m always glad to go and pray or say a service or help out. But I always feel bad. Because I see the way that this whole community, and not just me, surrounds a person who is going through something hard and stays with them. That’s the ministry of the church and what it means to be Christ’s body together. And I wish that everyone could have that, because I think that they would find that Christ’s healing, more often than not, comes in community, and not in isolation, because Christ often chooses to work through others.
In this Lenten season, that healing takes on a particular importance. This is a time when we are called to heal our own relationships with God, and to draw closer to Christ. We accompany Christ symbolically through his times of greatest challenge, and greatest pain. And we learn what it is both to be healed, and to be healers.
And at the end, we hear the message of the Scripture passage we read today: this pain does not last. I will not let it. You are going home.
This morning, I invite you to come forward and receive a physical symbol of that promise. We all, whether we admit it or not, probably have a place in our lives that needs healing. I do, and you may too. And so I invite you, as you feel moved, to come forward and let either Heidi or I anoint you with oil, the ancient Biblical practice of consecrating a person and marking them as ready for God’s healing. As we enter a time of holy prayer, I invite those who wish to come up as they feel ready. If you do not with, I invite you to pray for all those you know and love who need God’s healing now…