“Do You Want to Be Made Well?”

 

 On election day, I lit a candle at the kitchen table. I kept the flame burning all day long, until the polls closed. The first candle melted down into a heap of wax, so I lit another one. When it was time for art projects and active games, I moved the flame to the safety of a windowsill. All through that intense day, the warmth and strength of that little light reminded me to be in prayer for voters, for candidates, and for our nation. By prayer, I mean breathing. I mean connecting. I mean drawing in and sending forth the sacred energy of courage and hope. I mean holding us all in the light, love, and gratitude that is our truest and deepest reality.

This election was not a decision between different political philosophies. It was not even really about the candidates. It was about us. This election was a referendum on who we will be as a country. As Van Jones put it, in an emotional speech yesterday:

It’s easier to be a parent this morning. It’s easier to be a dad. It’s easier to tell your kids character matters. It matters. Telling the truth matters. Being a good person matters. And it’s easier for a whole lot of people. If you’re Muslim in this country, you don’t have to worry if the president doesn’t want you here. If you’re an immigrant, you don’t have to worry if the president is going to be happy to have babies snatched away or send dreamers back for no reason. It’s vindication for a lot of people who have really suffered. I can’t breathe? That wasn’t just George Floyd. That was a lot of people who felt they couldn’t breathe.[1]

Many people are breathing more easily now, and that’s very, very a good thing. It’s a moment to celebrate and give thanks. The jubilation of these last hours is a catharsis, a release of years of stress and trauma. And yet, the heaviness of our hearts lingers, doesn’t it? Because 70 million of our fellow citizens voted for a president who openly endorses white supremacy, who is actively working to dismantle our democracy, who belittles and threatens people on the margins, and who does not care about the people who are dying from the virus. These voters remind us that Trump is a visible symbol of our country’s illness, not its root cause.

This morning, we reflect on healing. We observe, Jesus, the healer, at work. And we hear the voices of those who encounter the healing presence of Jesus.

Healing was truly at the center of Jesus’ ministry. And it is also the heart of who we are called to be as his followers. Today’s narratives are about individuals being healed amid bodily ailments and disabilities, demons and mental health challenges. I’ve been pondering what these stories might have to say to the citizens of a nation that is sick with polarization and hate.

In these healing stories, people are not made well in isolation. Healing is relational work. Healing means the transformation of the whole community around the person who is ill. Jesus touched the person with leprosy. He sat beside and listened to the one filled with demons. He shared his power with the woman whose bleeding was out of control. Jesus’ actions teach us that inclusion and connection is what truly heals. A community that rejects and fears those on the margins is sick. A community that is well, that is whole, supports the wellness of all its members. By healing on the sabbath (not just in the story we heard today, but many times throughout the Gospels) Jesus makes it very clear that God’s deepest desire for creation is wellness. Liberated people can rest. Liberated people can be healed and become healers.  Liberated people can breathe.

The healing of our nation depends on claiming our common humanity and agreeing on a common narrative. Healing requires a shared commitment to truth. Right now, we are so deeply and bitterly divided in this country that we cannot fathom what is in the minds and hearts of people on the other side. Mike Lindell, the Trump campaign’s chairman in Minnesota, was quoted in yesterday’s Star Tribune, saying:

I don’t know who would even vote for Tina Smith or Biden. People I talked to, everyone I know, was voting the other way. I don’t know where this vote came from, I guess it’s this crazy liberal progressive stuff that starts downtown with the colleges. [2]

I can’t be too hard on this man. Because, you see, the very same remarks, in reverse, could come out of my mouth. I don’t understand the people who voted for Trump. Almost everyone I know was voting the other way. I guess it’s those crazy, right-wing, conservative people who sit and watch Fox news all day long.

Healing, for this country, means understanding that we are not well, and that we have never been well. In the words of Langston Hughes: O, let America be America again—The land that never has been yet—And yet must be—the land where every man is free.

The words of the Irish poet, Padraig O’Tuama keep echoing in my spirit. We need, as he puts it, “healings of the deepest kind.” In this country, we live in different realities. On all sides of this divide, we are sick with a lack of honesty. We have lied to ourselves about our legacies of slavery, colonialism, and genocide, and about their ongoing impact from one generation to the next. This fundamental lack of truth is the cause of our collective ill-health. Wellness will come only through radical and persistent truth-telling.

It strikes me that there is profound wisdom in the question Jesus asks the man lying beside the pool of Bethsaida. “Do you want to be made well?” Healing is not magic; it is not the same thing as a cure. Jesus’ question reminds us that healing is a gift we choose to receive. It needs our cooperation. Healing is a process that takes time and brings its own pain. Healing can happen only when we confront what is making us ill. It takes energy to heal. It takes courage to move toward wellness. The story of the man with demons reminds us how often fear is the thing that’s making us sick. The community around the man felt threatened not only by his illness, but also by his dramatic recovery. Their terror prevented them from becoming well, since they couldn’t bring themselves to be in relationship with him or with Jesus.

At the beginning of the service, we heard an acceptance speech made by Cori Bush, the first African American woman elected to represent Missouri in congress. She has borne our country’s illnesses in her own body—the COVID-19 virus, white supremacy, economic inequality; hate, fear and polarization. And, because of who she is and what she has experienced, she can also lead us toward a vision of wellness that is rooted in the healing of inclusion, connection and liberation. The written version of her speech includes these remarks:

Tonight, we the people are victorious. We the people are going to Congress. Because we the people have committed to a vision of America that works for all of us. An America that treats every person with respect. That recognizes healthcare as a human right. That believes every person deserves food to eat, a home to live in, and a dignified life. Our America will be led not by the small-mindedness of a powerful few, but the imagination of a mass movement that includes all of us. That is the America we are fighting for.[3]

Amen.

[1] https://www.poynter.org/reporting-editing/2020/watch-cnns-van-jones-emotional-reaction-to-joe-biden-winning-the-presidency/

[2] Star Tribune, November 7, 2020

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/nov/05/cori-bush-congresswoman-st-louis-missouri-speech