Touched By The Same Grace

Sorry I’m posting this two days late.  I was too excited about my birthday and distracted by the fact that I wasn’t totally prepared for our confirmation class that night that it slipped my mind!

I played an awesome rendition of “Guide My Feet” at the end of the sermon.  Here is a link to it on You Tube if you are interested.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Mark 1:40-45

Touched By The Same Grace

Paul was right. In a race, only one person can win. Even in the closest of finishes, one person is always declared a winner; one person always stands on that gold medal platform. And if you want to win, you cannot run aimlessly.

But is faith a race?

A few days before Bruce and I moved from Georgia in 2010, I ran a half marathon. I did not win the race – I did not even come close. Actually, if we are really being specific, I have to admit that Bruce absolutely schooled me a few months earlier that year when he ran a half marathon, beating my time by about 25 minutes. But I finished the race. I was given a medal. It may have taken me longer to finish than the first person to cross the finish line, but, in the end, my feet pounded the pavement of the same 13.1 miles of the people who finished before me, with me and after me.

And, to be quite honest, for me those miles were much more than just a race.

The thing is, leading up to the race I was preparing myself for more than just 13.1 miles. I was preparing to leave Atlanta, a city that, for Bruce and me, had become home for three-and-a-half years. So as I ran through the streets of Atlanta, I was not just participating in a race, I was saying goodbye to a city that I loved. I started by running past Centennial Olympic Park, the CNN Center and the Omni Hotel, the places where I stayed when I first fell in the love with the city on a trip there in 2005. Up a hill and around a curve and I passed Atlantic Station, a shopping center that my friends and I used to frequent. I headed through Piedmont Park, where Bruce and I picnicked on our first wedding anniversary. Our course took us down Sweet Auburn Avenue, the heart of the Civil Rights Movement and countless discussions that opened my eyes about race during seminary. I ran passed Grady Memorial Hospital and thought about all of the sleepless nights I had while on call there. Towards the end of the race I ran on a bridge over Interstate 75/85 with nothing but a skyline of memories in front of me. And as I ran towards the finish line at Turner Field and thought about the numerous nights that Bruce and my friends and I spent doing the tomahawk chop with thousands of people, I knew that I had said my goodbyes and was ready to leave.

So it did not matter that when I crossed the finish line, I was not the winner. Because the journey was what was most important, not who finished first. And that is where I think Paul that gets it wrong.

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus healed a leper. The leper had come to Jesus begging him, saying to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean,” and Jesus did. “I do choose,” Jesus said. “Be made clean!” – and immediately the leprosy left the man.
Whenever I am preaching and the subject of healing comes up, I am never quite sure which direction to take. We do live in a time and space where medical healing is a lot more prominent than faith healing. When people are sick they generally call their doctors – not me. And yet Jesus did heal this man – and many others.

I read an interesting commentary on this passage last week. It said:

The centuries since Jesus’ days on earth do seem to have produced some consensus on which most modern, as well as ancient, minds agree. For example, there exists a real, though not yet fully understood, relationship between the mind and body—belief and health, the spiritual and the physical. The old dichotomies between body and spirit are questioned, if not challenged. The healing of the leper in the text is instructive in the way it reveals the human side of Jesus. {Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 1}

Isn’t that interesting? If we look at faith healing from something other than a physical perspective, it suddenly is much more real, much more feasible in our lives. It is something that we have the ability to nurture in our churches and in our communities. We may not be able to eliminate an ear infection the way amoxicillin or azithromycin can, but do have the ability to heal on a very real and radical level.

We are in the business of healing – faith healing.

Now I do want to be clear that when I talk about faith healing I am not insinuating that we eliminate doctors and medical science. What I am saying is that I think the church can play a very important role when it comes to healing on an emotional, mental and spiritual level. And because all of our systems – our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual systems – are so intertwined, therefore we can also play a very important role in physical healing in this world.

It is the middle of the winter – a mild winter, but still a winter. It is cold, it is dark and flu season is in full force. People are tired. People are worn out. There are a lot of outside stressors that are weighing heavily on people’s hearts and minds right now. All around us – even here in this sanctuary – God’s children are in need of healing.

We can be part of this healing. We can offer healing to those who need it. We can visit members of our community who are sick or who just cannot leave their houses or communities. We can make and gift prayer shawls. We can bring meals to individuals or families going through a hard or hectic time. We can help someone around their house if they are having difficulties moving around. We can pray with someone – or we can just sit with them in silence when words just are not enough. We can hold someone’s hand. We can offer someone an embrace. We can support one another. We can be good friends to one another.

And do you know what? When we are the ones in need of that healing – we can ask for it as well. That is what it means to be taking this journey.

I understand the point that Paul was trying to make when he said that we should not be running aimlessly. He did not want the Corinthians to see their faith as just an aimless side note of their lives. But there are no winners or losers in faith, no one person more worthy of God’s grace than another – Jesus made that very clear when he reached out and laid his hands on a person with leprosy. He defined a new reality where that was okay. He defined a reality where society was not going to dictate who was worthy of God’s grace.

We are all human beings touched by the same grace. When Paul says that only one person can win a race, I wonder who would really even want to win anyway. What does it mean to win? Aren’t we all in this together? Aren’t we all taking this journey together? Aren’t we all supposed to be loving one another, supporting one another, healing one another?

We are all human beings touched by the same grace. Speed is not important; what is important is how we choose to spend our journey.

We are all human beings touched by the same grace. We are called to reach out to one another. We are called to serve. We are called to define a new reality, one where we are actively involved in the healing and the nurturing of the people around us.

We are all human beings touched by the same grace. We are not called to win the race. We are just called to be part of it.

I reached a point in my writing this week where I was not quite sure how to wrap things up. So I thought I would turn to music instead. So as we prepare ourselves for prayer this morning I invite you all to think about your race as we listen to the choir of the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn sing Guide My Feet.

{Listen to Guide My Feet}

We are all human beings touched by the same grace. Oh Lord, guide our feet. Amen.

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