Sermon by The Rev. Christopher W. Hogin
Sunday, July 22, 2018
Thank you for tuning into Ascensioncast. We hope you enjoy listening to this and our other podcasts. You can find more information at www.knoxvilleascension.org or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Gospel: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
The Sermon: “Healing One Another”
Last week I was in Leawood, Kansas examining the structure of a 22,000 member Methodist parish called Church of The Resurrection. They are bucking the national trend in that they are growing not declining in membership. For three days I studied stewardship, pastoral care, small groups, and operations. I was impressed by the number of small groups. They have a group for childless women, one for veterans, a bipolar support group, a cancer support group, grief groups, and a support groups for the unemployed. A vast network of pastoral care exists where lay people and clergy work together. It’s a church where a lot of healing takes place. That healing comes from one another.
While there, I stayed with a close friend of mine from Washington, DC, who is also a congregant of Resurrection. On Friday evening, after a day of meetings, the two of us sat in his living room and talked. All of a sudden the doorbell rang. In walked a figure wearing a green nylon suit. This figure made mime-like gestures in this bodily outline. It was weird. I was on the verge of fleeing, convinced my long-time Kansas friend was now a member of a green man cult.
All of a sudden the mystery man unzipped his suit. Out emerged a good friend who flew in for a surprise visit from Washington, DC. (I hadn’t seen him in eight years.) Later, a second friend surprised me from Austin, Texas. What started out as a work trip turned into a deeply meaningful reunion of buddies. Healing took place that weekend. It happened through a group of friends who cared enough to fly out from all over the country to Leawood, Kansas.
Let me pivot from Kansas for a moment, but I’ll get back to it in a moment. Let’s focus on Mark’s Gospel. The apostles have gone into the community healing the sick. They are exhausted. The burden of meeting crowd demands for healing is too great. Jesus tells them to rest. Unfortunately they aren’t left alone. The crowd is like a throng of fans chasing Jesus and his disciples as though they were celebrities. The people wants something from Jesus and the disciples. They want healing and relief from their brokenness. Jesus and the apostles become objects of healing, which is exhausting.
Reading this passage, I was reminded of on an interview the lead singer, John McCrea, of the alternative rock band CAKE once gave. He reflected on one of the challenges of being a celebrity. While performing on stage, he observes how the crowd cheers, not so much for him, but for the energy that surrounds him. The music, the fame, and the fortune all create a vast power center where he sits in the middle. People yearn for that energy because there’s something within them is broken. For many, the energy of concerts and performances becomes an adrenaline rush of healing. This is exhausting and draining for the performer. Eventually McRae suffered from a nervous breakdown. He found it impossible to meet the needs of his fans.
Statistics prove this. Podcaster Tyler Mahan Coe, in one of his shows, shared a study from The New York Times, which analyzed 1,000 obituaries from 2009 to 2011. It showed that famous people had shorter life spans. Another study revealed that nearly 1,500 musicians who became famous between 1956 and 2006 died by 45 years old. In other words, fame kills.
The program also pointed out that when people strive for wealth and power for the purpose of making themselves psychologically whole, the opposite usually results: mainly dissatisfaction and depression. Conversely, psychologists find that when humans focus their energy, not on gaining wealth, power, or fame, but on cultivating meaningful relationships, they have stronger levels of mental health and healing.
Jesus understood this. Jesus knew that the only way to cure the sick is when the sick begin healing one another. Not even God incarnate can meet all those needs. (Remember, humans later crucified Jesus.) So Jesus does something profound. The very next verse after our Gospel reading, Jesus performs his miracle of feeding the 5,000. The significance of the miracle is not so much that Jesus himselffeeds the 5,000, but that Jesus sets the stage for the crowd to feed one another. The healing comes when all 5,000 people bond together That’s the miracle.
And that’s what Jesus is talking about. Healing comes through the people you interact with. Healing comes through cultivated relationships. Healing comes when we feed others and allow ourselves to be fed. Healing comes when we give to our community. Healing comes when we realize that as Christians, our call is to heal ourselves by connecting with others.
Now let’s return to Kansas. The Church of The Resurrection is growing because it creates communities of healing. It encourages people to bond together by feeding one another both materially and spiritually. That’s why it’s growing.
I went to Kansas looking for the secret of church growth, but the secret of church growth was in front of me. It came in the form of a buddy of mine who bought a ticket from Washington, DC, and dressed up in a green suit, and surprised me in a living room. It came from another who re-routed his flight from Texas for an overnight stay in Kansas. It came from all four of us gathering in a honkey-tonk on a Saturday night listening to a buddy of ours perform Conway Twitty and Ronnie Millsap cover songs as we shared bottles of Coors Light.
A lot of healing took place that night, but it didn’t happen from our careers, or what we achieved. It came through our bonded connected relationships.
Healing begins when we heal one another.