February 4, 2024- sermon- Hamilton Throckmorton

Sermon Text...


February 4, 2024                                          Hamilton Coe Throckmorton

Mark 1:29-39                                                The Federated Church, UCC


     One year, a clergy colleague of mine decided she was going to preach through the gospel of Mark. Rather than follow the lectionary series of readings we commonly use or change things up with passages from other books of the Bible, each Sunday, she was just going to read one passage after another, in order, from Mark’s gospel. It all sounded like a great idea until she realized how many healing stories there are in Mark. Week after week, she would encounter another healing story. And while that’s great, and a wonderful sign of who Jesus is, my colleague realized fairly early in the year that she had pretty much said everything she had to say about healing and that things were starting to get somewhat redundant.


     Last Sunday, Betsy preached on the passage that immediately precedes today’s reading. If you worshiped with us that day, you may remember that the biblical story focused on the healing of a person who was possessed by an unclean spirit—an exorcism of sorts. Today, you will not be surprised to hear that once again, Mark lets us know that Jesus was healing people. We’re still very early in the story of Jesus’ ministry. After he’s been baptized and tested in the wilderness, he calls disciples to follow. And then immediately off he gallops on this frenetic ministry.


     These three healing stories happen as the very first stories of Jesus’ public ministry. A demon is exorcized. Simon’s mother-in-law is raised to health. And then crowds who come to the door of the house where Jesus is are healed of their diseases. It’s as if Mark is saying, “You want to know what Jesus is about? He’s about healing people of all that robs them of fullness of life. He’s about bringing people back to wholeness.”


     If there’s anything that the God we know in Jesus Christ aches for it’s that we will know and live into wholeness. And the truth is that that wholeness is so often elusive, isn’t it. Maybe you yourself know that incompleteness, that yearning, that quest for something more settled than what you know now. Maybe your body is failing you. Maybe your soul sags under a weight that drags you down. Maybe a relationship crumbles, or a sorrow lingers, or a fear hangs on tenaciously.


     Sue Monk Kidd, who wrote The Secret Life of Bees, begins her spiritual memoir this way: “Overhead a thickening of clouds wreathed everything in grayness. It was February, when the earth . . . seems mired in the dregs of winter. I had been walking for miles; I don’t know how many. I could feel neither my toes inside my shoes nor the wind on my face. I could feel nothing at all but an intense aching of my soul.


     “For some months I had been lost in a baffling crisis of spirit. Back in the autumn I had awakened to a growing darkness and cacophony, as if something in my depths were crying out. A whole chorus of voices. Orphaned voices. They seemed to speak for all the unlived parts of me, and they came with a force and dazzle that I couldn’t contain. They seemed to explode the boundaries of my existence. I know now that they were the clamor of a new self struggling to be born” (When the Heart Waits, p. 3). Sue Monk Kidd is aching for a kind of healing.


     Or maybe the larger society seems so broken you can hardly stand it. A world in which young trans people are squashed in their desire to live their true selves. A world in which people of color are still shunted to the side and made to bear excessive burdens. A world in which each tenth of a degree of global warming bears new threats to life on this planet. You and I know something of what Simon’s mother-in-law and the needy crowds are feeling. A craving for healing, for wholeness, for restoration? You bet. It’s palpable.


     And just as Jesus is there for those long-ago seekers, the God who yearns equally for our wholeness is present with us today, even right here, even in this moment. Sometimes that healing comes in something as simple as deep breaths that restore a kind of equanimity. Sometimes it comes in an unexpected light that brightens the shadows. And sometimes it comes in the form of a hand reaching out to ours, a hand that offers to us what we can’t produce on our own, a hand that embraces ours in a kind of sweet tenderness.


     Remember the scene with Simon’s mother-in-law. She’s laid low by a fever. And when Jesus arrives, he goes to her, and takes her by the hand, and lifts her up. Rembrandt conveys it beautifully in a drawing on the back of our bulletin. A hand reaching down and lifting up. It’s the simplest of gestures. And it yields the sort of healing she, and we, crave.


     And this is what you and I can do for and with each other. Several years ago, I was out walking in our development one winter morning. As a car approached, I stepped to the side of the road. It was icy there, though, and my feet went out from under me. I went flat on my back and my head hit the ground. Just as I fell, a neighbor was driving by. He slammed on his brakes, got out of his truck, and came over to me. He stared into my eyes to make sure my pupils looked fine, and kindly asked how I was. The next day, in fact, he saw me again, and again he stopped to ask how I was doing. A hand reaching out to offer healing.


     Presbyterian minister P. C. Ennis says how crucial the community of Christ’s people is in conveying to each other, even in the midst of challenging times, this extended hand of care and love. Ennis quotes the psychiatrist Gerald May: “God’s grace through community involves something far greater than other people’s support and perspective. The power of grace is nowhere as brilliant nor as mystical as in communities of faith. Its power includes not just love that comes from people and through people but love that pours forth among people, as if through the very spaces between one person and [the] next. Just to be in such an atmosphere is to be bathed in healing power” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, p. 336).


     Sometimes we see that healing power working itself out in movements that reshape the society in which we live. During this Black History Month, we remember the actions of Rosa Parks, whose clear-eyed decisiveness and sense for what’s right led her to keep her seat on a Montgomery bus in December of 1955. Federated member Casey Forbes writes an occasional note to his staff colleagues in which he recently quoted what Parks wrote in her autobiography. “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. . .. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” And while the issues that prompted Parks to keep sitting are by no means at an end, in her sitting, Rosa Parks was a galvanizing force in helping heal a society.


     Yes, sometimes healing happens on a macro plane. And so often that healing happens in the micro moments of our daily lives. The pastor P. C. Ennis reports a story told by a surgeon named Richard Selzer. “I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face post-operative, her mouth twisted—palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed . . . [T]o remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut the little nerve. The young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private . . .. ‘Will my mouth always be like this?’ she asks. ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘it will. It is because the nerve was cut.’ She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. ‘I like it,’ he says. ‘It is kind of cute.’ He bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close that I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate her, to show her that their kiss still works . . .. I hold my breath and let the wonder in” (p. 336). A healing beauty shines.


     Today we receive Christ’s communion meal. It is emblematic of the endlessly sublime care Christ gives to us. And it’s a plea to us to embody that same sort of extended care to each other. We are never better than when we live into that healing power of Christ, that power that sustains and animates us, here in this church, in our communities, and in the larger world. May we together be agents of that healing, reconciling love, Jesus’ love, a love that makes us whole, now and always.