I preached this sermon on March 29th to mixed reviews. There’s nothing like the topic of physical healing to polarize a congregation. I’ll split it up into several posts on the blog but if you are interested in hearing or reading it in its entirety before then, visit www.tfumc.com and go to the sermon section. Unfortunately, the emotional reserve needed to absorb this sermon was immediately swept away afterwards due to a single announcement. Our conference has requested that my senior minister take an appointment in Albany, GA. As part of the “Methodist way” (as I like to call it), she has agreed. Needless to say, people were completely shocked. Who’s coming in? That hasn’t been finalized yet…and that’s part of the adventure I suppose. But I certainly will miss Leigh Ann. I have a learned a tremendous amount from her. Anyway, on the the sermon…
Healing the Desperate
Text: Mark 10:46-52
Today we are continuing our series on the healings of Jesus. Specifically today, we are going to talk about Jesus healing people who were desperate.
I love to read church history. Not for the councils and creeds and such (though that’s certainly important), but for the people you meet along the way. One of my favorite stories from medieval history is the story of Tanchelm. In 1112, local clergy begged for help from Frederick, the archbishop of Cologne, concerning a wandering preacher they called “our Antichrist.” Tanchelm, who was probably a monk, started his ministry calling for stronger Gregorian reform – he then forbade his followers to take the sacraments and urged them not to tithe to the local church. As his popularity grew, he proclaimed his own divinity and thousands flocked to his side. And thisis the pertinent part for today’s message. According to the local clergy, Tanchelm’s followers began to distribute his bath water in small doses and drink it as a sacrament to heal their bodies of disease. Finally, the local clergy had endured all they could stand and devised a plan. They selected a priest who took Tanchelm on a boat ride. At just the right moment, the priest took the oar, smacked Tanchelm upside the head, and pushed him into the water. And that was the end of that. Slightly horrifying…but still a great story from church history. You can’t make that stuff up, people! Personally, stories like this one make me cringe with embarrassment and wonder exactly how Christians can make such “undignified” decisions. It’s like watching a theological train wreck! I think God is up in heaven shaking his head in disbelief. Then, I begin to look beyond their “legacy” to the people behind the actions. That’s when drinking the bathwater of a medieval “David Koresh” begins to make sense. I like how Paul Tillich explains it. He said that fringe groups like Tanchelm’s are “the criticism of the church for the gap between its claim and its reality.”
Tanchelm’s followers were desperate. “Desperation” is a word that makes us uneasy, specifically when you associate it with something mysterious like our present topic – healing. We like things to be ordered, calm, reserved, dignified, and predictable. We don’t really like “desperate.” It conjures up images of recklessness and threatens our respectability with the possibility that someone might make a scene. What’s worse, they may even make a scene for Jesus! But the gospels are full of examples of people being undignified. Two weeks ago, Leigh Ann talked about a hemorrhaging woman who was willing to risk the ritual impurity of everyone around her to touch Jesus’s clothing. And that story is couched within the frame of Jairus – the biblical version of a modern day city council member or mayor – falling down in the dirt and crying for Jesus to heal his little girl. And the story of Bartimaeus is also great example.
Talking about healing is really difficult. It makes ministers shake in their boots. And that’s mostly because of the theology involved. When it comes down to it, we must admit that we don’t have a good “theology” of healing. Questions like “Can God heal?” or “Will God heal?” have complex answers. Oftentimes, it’s beyond our grasp. And when we discuss them, we go around and around in circles like a dryer full of clothes at the local Laundromat. That reminds me a lot of my youngest daughter, Annagale. Annagale is a free spirit. We use words like “expressive,” “energetic” and “inspired” to describe her, if you catch my drift. She is always entertaining to be sure. We’ve been working on understanding the Trinity at our house lately, though I don’t think it’s going as well as I hoped. At preschool the other day, the teachers informed me that they were also discussing the Trinity with Annagale’s class. The teacher said, “So, the Trinity is the Father, the Son, and the Holy….” Annagale jumped up and said, “Holy Cow!” So, I suppose everyone’s theology could use a little “tweaking” now and then.