Adventurous Lectionary – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 26, 2021

The Adventurous Lectionary – Pentecost 18 – September 26, 2021
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10: 9:20-22
Psalm 124
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

This week’s lectionary readings focus on the many facets of healing both divine and human. God heals in many ways and through diverse people. There is no one healing path or modality, nor does any particular religious or medical tradition have a monopoly on divine healing. God heals through prayer, but also Prozac, as my friend Dale Matthews says; through medication and meditation; and through chanting and chemotherapy. Wherever healing and truth are present, God is the source, regardless of whether God’s or Jesus’ name is mentioned. This is the practical implication of Jesus’ affirmation, “I have come that they might have abundant life.” (John 10:10) We are challenged to be God’s healing partners in personal and political relationships.

By focusing on healing this week, I will give brief attention to the Book of Esther. To do Esther justice, it needs to be the primary passage of the day, along with some other passages from Esther, and the preacher needs to tell the story of Esther, her sense of vocation, and God’s care for the Jewish people. Today’s reading speaks of healing through holiday and festival; in this case, the celebration of Purim. It is a remarkable story; one that I review in my text, “Ruth and Esther: Women of Agency and Adventure.” Esther reminds us that even unlikely people may be called to acts of healing and liberation for just such a time as this.

Can there be healing through violence? Or, must liberation involve loss to certain members of our community? Certainly, we don’t hope for the fate of Haman, but we know that a just world requires sacrifice, and that even as peace seekers, we must participate in coercive actions to protect the most vulnerable.

Psalm 124 speaks of Israel’s utter dependence on God. “Our help is in God.” If God had not been our side in times of trial, we would have been vanquished. The Psalm, besides being a recitation of Israel’s understanding of God’s providential care, invites us to ponder those moments when God has delivered us from calamity. Where have you experienced God making a way where there is no way? Where have you encountered healing companions at the time you needed them most? Where have you felt God’s providence when you had nothing more to give or felt hopeless?

Every breath and encounter can be a call to prayer. Not public prayers or prayers to reveal your piety, but the moment by moment prayerfulness and intentionality to see yourself on holy ground and ask for guidance to bring healing and wholeness, blessing and hope, to each encounter.

The reading from James focuses on the life-transforming power of prayer. James counsels us to pray about everything and in every season of life. Every state of mind or mood is a call to prayer. In sickness and in health, pray. When you feel shame and guilt, pray. When you are happy, give thanks. When you are depressed, ask for healing. Indeed, the totality of our lives should be prayerful. James also introduces the role of anointing in the healing process. Laying on of hands and anointing with oil create a healing field of force that opens us to a great inflow of divine energy. Liturgical prayer can transform our lives and relationships.

With Paul, the author of James counsels us to pray without ceasing. Prayer should be as natural as breathing and should accompany every action. Nothing is off limits for prayer, and the prayer of the righteous can transform cells as well as souls.

Are we committed to healing and life-transforming prayer in our churches? Do we think prayer makes a difference and can really alter our physical and emotional condition? What are the practices of prayer in your congregation? And to pastors, what are your beliefs about prayer? Do you believe that prayer makes a difference? Can our prayers change weather patterns, as James suggests? Certainly James’ idea of prayer can be identified with the butterfly effect; the impact of small actions – like the flapping of a butterfly wings on weather patterns across the nation. Is it possible that our prayers create a positive field of force that can transform physical and political events? We must continue with prayer even if our prayers do not guarantee the outcomes we desire. Prayer changes us, connecting with God, even if our prayers are apparently not answered.

James reminds us not to judge the sinners in our midst. Our calling is to embrace the lost and broken, to encourage them to confess their sins, and then get right with God as part of their – and our own – healing process. In the spirit of Jewish mysticism, James affirms that when you save a soul, you save the world; when you bring a soul back to God, you are sharing in God’s Shalom vision. (For more on the Letter of James, see Bruce Epperly, “Holistic Spirituality: Life-transforming Wisdom from the Letter of James.”)

In today’s pluralistic age, the words of Mark 9:38-41 remind us to expand the circle of healing and inspiration beyond our own communities. The disciples are quite pleased with themselves for preserving the purity and orthodoxy of the Jesus’ movement, by silencing the healing ministry of an outsider. They are surprised when Jesus rebukes them for their narrowmindedness and limited understanding of Jesus’ healing mission. Jesus is not parochial in perspective; nor does he exclude other healers, including non-Christian healers and healing practices. Jesus’ words open us to using with integrity healing practices such as Reiki healing touch, Qigong, indigenous approaches to healing. Anyone who promotes abundant life is on God’s side, regardless of her or his pedigree. Divine healing is found outside the church; grace is present in all sorts of disguises. Wherever there is healing, God is its source.

In light of today’s scriptures, we can affirm God’s healing touch in Christian worship and laying on of hands and also in Western medicine. We can also explore healing in traditional Chinese medicine, Reiki healing touch, yoga and Qigong, and meditative and stress reduction techniques. God’s quest for abundant life takes many forms and we need to explore a variety of healing practices before critiquing them. Moreover, we need to provide guidance for Christians who are interested in complementary medical practices. Other healers and healing techniques, along with spiritual practices from other traditions, can deepen our Christian faith when they are interpreted in the context of Jesus’ healing ministry and the tradition of Christian spiritual formation. We must do our homework to avoid superficial syncretism – as well as superficial and theologically-parochial critiques of non-Christian healing practices – and to open ourselves to healing in its many dimensions as a reflection of divine care.

(For more on healing, see Bruce Epperly, “The Energy of Love: Reiki and Christian Healing”;” Reiki Healing Touch and the Way of Jesus”; “Healing Marks: Spirituality and Healing in Mark’s Gospel;” “Healing Worship: Purpose and Practice,” and God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus.)

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