Remembering to Heal

Luke 7:11-17

fisherKingIn 1991 Terry Gilliam wrote and directed a movie called The Fisher King. I actually did not see it until later on when I was older, but when I did, I was mesmerized by it. The Fisher King tells the story of Jack Lucas (played by actor Jeff Bridges), a cynical, arrogant talk radio host, who becomes depressed after his insensitive comments on-air during his show inspire a depressed caller to commit multiple murders at a popular Manhattan bar. Three years later, Jack is at the end of his rope. He decides he does not want to live any more. But just as he tries to end it all, he is mistaken for a homeless person and is attacked by thugs in the street. But, he is rescued by a homeless man named Parry (played by Robin Williams). Parry is a man on a mission to find the Holy Grail, and tries to convince Jack to help him.

Of course, Jack thinks that Parry is crazy. The Holy Grail? But the more Jack talks with Parry and gets to know him, he realizes that Parry acts the way he does for a reason. Parry saw his wife die in front of him. As a result, he lives almost as if he’s asleep–in a catatonic state. He is continually haunted by an imaginary Red Knight, who appears whenever Parry starts to regain confidence in who he really is. Parry seeks after the Holy Grail, because he believes that this legendary cup of Jesus actually exists in the Upper East Side of New York City. He convinces himself that if he finds it, he will be healed, forgiven, and freed.

Eventually, Jack, the former star of radio, decides to help Parry. So he looks for this imaginary “Holy Grail.” Jack goes to great lengths to scale and break into a “castle” of a rich man to retrieve the Grail, which is actually just a monogrammed cup. In the scene you are about to see, Jack brings the Grail to Parry who is in the hospital after going into a coma from a catatonic episode.

Parry woke up when he held the cup [the Holy Grail] in his hands. Because of Jack’s willingness to bring that cup to him, Parry was able to face his past. He missed his wife.

 I really miss her, Jack. Is that okay? Can I miss her now? Thank you.

In that moment, Parry was healed; and so was Jack.

Two individuals, so different from each other, met on the journey of life, and both were healed in the process.

We are in Luke’s Gospel once again, and we are talking about healing once again. As I have mentioned before, Luke is a great storyteller and was a storyteller for those who did not identify as being Jewish. Luke’s Gospel seeks to include a variety of people in the story and message. Right before this healing story is the tale of a centurion [a Roman soldier] asking Jesus to heal his own servant. Now, we have Jesus encountering a woman who is a widow, and her son is sick. Notice I said that Jesus encountered her. She did not come to him.

The widow was from a town. Nain was the name of the place. It was a Galilean town, not too far from Nazareth.

NainKeep in mind that widows like her, along with orphans and strangers, were a particularly vulnerable group of people in this time and place. The widow of Nain, without a son, had no economic support and lived on the outskirts of society. And yet, even though she was marginalized [which means she was often overlooked], Jesus saw her. This is an important point in the story.

Jesus saw her.

Then, after seeing her, Jesus has compassion for her. He shows empathy for her situation. Finally, he engages her in conversation. And what he speaks are the same words used for Jesus’ own resurrection—raise up. The widow’s son was healed. She was healed. And I would argue also that the community was healed.

But none of this actually happens unless Jesus goes to Nain, not unless he sees her, not unless he empathizes with her situation, not unless he speaks a healing word to her and her son. Jesus only met the widow of Nain because he left his own town; he also left the comfort of the synagogue and went out.

He went to her, discovered her need, didn’t judge that need, and brought healing into her life.

This is typical Jesus, is it not? He was a GO-TO person.

I would venture a guess that most people in the world do not want to be preached to, but certainly want to be ministered to. One huge mistake we often make in our churches is that we think we have to preach to people—telling them how they ought to believe or what they should believe. But how often do we go to people, out into the community to find out what people need?

I see a lot of come-to churches. We put up a steeple, a cross, a building, create flashy programs, and then expect the people to come to us. I want you to imagine something, if you can. What if Jesus and his early followers would have acted in this way? What if they never went to Capernaum, Rome, Samaria, or Greece and they just stayed in their fishing villages and towns? What if they just waited for people to come to them? How different would the stories of the Gospels be? How different would Jesus’ ministry have been?  They never would have encountered the Samaritan woman at the well, or the woman who reached out to touch Jesus’ cloak, or the Roman soldier [centurion] whose servant was sick, or the widow with the son in need of healing. They would have been come-to people.

Jesus called his followers out of this come-to world and into a go-to existence.

For us, in the workplace it means that you don’t try to proselytize people or convert them, but instead you listen to people with holy ears. And you see them, you empathize with them, and you speak a healing word to them. Maybe you offer a prayer, but with no strings attached. A prayer for whatever they need.

At school…you see those other students without friends who are bullied or considering hurting themselves… you see them, empathize with them, and speak a healing word to them by standing with them when they need you and helping them feel that they are not alone.

In our families, we don’t wait for the estranged person to come to us because of our pride or past hurts. Instead, we go to them and see them, and show compassion, and then we speak a healing word to them.

Maybe it’s just:  I’m sorry.

Maybe it’s just: I love you.

Maybe it’s just:  The past is the past.

Maybe:  It’s not your fault.

Friends, let us not forget what we are really supposed to be about. We need to remember. We cannot forget to go to our communities as agents of healing. Communities of faith, churches, don’t exist just so that people have another place to visit or so we can gather with people of like mind. Churches exist to minister to the community—to address the needs of people. We exist to forgive, to love, to show compassion, to see those who are ignored and left out. We exist to help and to heal. We are not come-to communities of faith.

We are go-to communities. That is who we are.

Jesus the great healer meets people on their journey and walks with them. The Spirit of this Jesus walks with us. We are met and offered healing as we need it. But it’s hard to recognize that if we are not out in the community as agents of healing ourselves. You see, friends, if you are out there seeing people, empathizing with them, and then speaking a healing word—you will be so focused on that good work that you will start to heal yourself. This is the mysterious and wonderful truth of it. This is the only reason to have churches. We are both healing agents and recipients of healing.

Healing can happen, friends. It can. But we will need to commit to walking with others in our community long-term, being with them as they are, seeing and accepting them for who they are. We’ll need to ask questions: what does our community need? How can we speak healing to them? And in that walking, seeing, and empathizing, we remember to heal ourselves.

And this healing is good news! Amen.


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Josh grew up in the Midwest before completing a B.A. in Theatre at Northwestern College [IA] and a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ [UCC], Josh has lived and worked in the Midwest, East Coast, Hawai’i, and Mexico. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Welcome Project PA, host of the Bucks-Mont PRIDE Festival, and he is Pastor of Love In Action UCC, an open and affirming congregation featured in a Vox Media episode of Divided States of Women with Liz Plank and in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Josh has 20+ years of nonprofit experience, including leading workshops and training in corporate, medical, and academic settings, focused on diversity & inclusion, grant writing, fund raising, and program management. Josh is a fellow of Interfaith Philadelphia, and designs and coordinates HS and University student groups for interfaith immersion service-learning weeks. Josh also co-facilitates Ally trainings for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and interfaith cooperation. He is a founding member of The Society for Faith & Justice, and a Collaborator for Nurturing Justice, and a member of the Driving PA Forward team via New Sanctuary Movement. He also performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, and has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in religious and secular settings. Josh also enjoys running, singing, traveling, learning languages, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philly.

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