Healing and Wholeness:
The Adventure of a Lifetime

Remembrance and Return © Jan Richardson.  janrichardson.com

Remembrance and Return © Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com

First Sunday in Lent • February 18, 2018
Recommended Readings: Matthew 9:1-13; Matthew 19:16-22

          The rich young man who encountered Jesus thought he had come to the teacher with a religious question: “What good deed will earn me eternal life?” Maybe he thought Jesus could say, “You’re good. I see you have been obeying the commandments and giving ten percent of your income to the Temple. Just give a few alms to the poor in your town and you’ll be set.” But Jesus saw through his question. He realized right away that the young man had a lot more to worry about. Jesus knew the man was gravely ill – sick to the core of his being. So, Jesus challenged him: “Give all you have to the poor; then come and follow me.” The man could not bring himself to let go of his many possessions. He was addicted, you see. He was in bondage to his wealth. I mean this man needed healing!

          I chose the passage about the rich young man free us from the all too common mindset of thinking of healing only as it relates to our physical bodies. This young man was not suffering any physical or mental disease that we know of. But he was sick in his spirit and that kept him from being able accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him and learn from him. It kept him from being well and whole.

          We are not just bodies. When we talk about healing and wholeness, we are need to capture all of our amazing, beautiful complexity. We are not just bodies. Nor are we just bodies with advanced brains. We are body, mind, and spirit. In fact, we are even more than that, because none of us exists without relationships. We live in a web of mutuality. And our relationships are not just with other human beings, but with other creatures, with our natural environment, and with God. I want you to imagine a big circle around me, like Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Vetruvian Man.” And up here [pointing at the head] is mind. Down below is body. And out here to the left is spirit and over to the right is relationships. And now imagine connecting lines going from each of these components to all of the others. That’s what we mean by wholeness. All of these are components of the whole persons that we are. We know, for example, that when one of us suffers a spiritual malady or is in an unhealthy relationship, that can have a serious impact on our physical health, and so on. If any of those four components of ourselves is ill, wounded, broken, in pain, or abused, then it affects the others. When that happens, our experience of ourselves can be far from the wholeness that God desires for us and that is possible for us. Isn’t this what happened to the rich young man? He had a desire to connect with God and to learn from Jesus, but he could not bring himself to follow through on that desire. His addiction held him back.

          This big picture of healing and wholeness is captured in the Greek word in the New Testament, sozo. Sozo is most often translated into English as “salvation.” But the concept of “salvation” has been saddled over the centuries with a very narrow definition that says essentially, “If you believe that Jesus is the son of God and died for your sins, your soul will be saved and you’ll go to heaven when you die.” The truth is that the translation is and this definition are way too limited. Sozo can mean “to save,” but it also means “to heal” and “to make whole.” It contains the idea that not only can our souls or spirits be “saved,” but that our brokenness we can be made whole wherever it is present within ourselves or in our relationships. That means that a church that focuses only on the spirit is not really doing the whole ministry of the Gospel of Jesus. A robust and well-rounded ministry of salvation has to deal with the healing and wholeness of the whole person and the world in which we live and move and have our being. 

          Another way to approach an expansive understanding of healing and wholeness is to ask the questions, “What is broken?” and “What needs healing?” The rich young man believed that money and possessions could make him whole. Instead, they made him sick and broken. On the other hand, living in poverty can make a person feel wounded and broken too. Yet, many people without wealth and possessions experience wholeness. I think of Cecelia, who was with our community for a about a year. She was homeless and struggling financially the whole time. Her life was far from what most people would call whole or even comfortable. But she found deep healing, connection, significant friendships, and a sense of belonging among us. She danced in the Christmas Pageant. Something she had never done before. The expressed great joy here and told people that coming to worship every Sunday helped her to deal with the challenges she faced. Unfortunately, she never found a decent, affordable place to live in New York City and was compelled to leave, but I believe she experienced a sense of wholeness at in this community.

          We have already said that it is not just our bodies or mind, but our spirits and our relationships. Yet, it goes well beyond these. We also live in wounded communities, broken social systems, exploitative, oppressive, and violent relations between peoples and nations. As a species, we have done great harm to the wholeness and health of the earth. We have polluted its air and water. We have contributed to the extinction of hundreds of species of plants, mammals, birds, and fish. We are even beginning to fill the space around our planet with debris. It’s seems like madness, when you take time to think about it. 

          Nick Vujicic was born without arms and legs. Doctors told his parents he would never be able to walk or do anything on his own. They said his life would be very limited. But his parents did not listen. They had a big faith in a very big God and they also believe in their son and loved him with an extravagant love. They encouraged him all along the way. They told him, “You will never know what you can accomplish unless you try.” He did have periods of deep depression and discouragement. There was a point when he was still a child when he wanted to die. But he persevered. He learned to walk on small appendages. He learned to kick a soccer ball. He played with his siblings and developed friends. He also developed a great sense of humor. Some of you may have heard of or even read his book, Life Without Limits: Inspiration for a Ridiculously Good Life. Ultimately, Nick has become a world-famous author and motivational speaker. He is married and has two children. And he has a powerful faith and a huge love for life that is contagious. I doubt that anyone who knows him or has seen one of his talks would say that he has not experienced sozo. Nick has been saved, healed, and made whole over the course of his life. As he wrote about his life, “I won’t pretend my life is easy, but through the love of my parents, loved ones, and faith in God, I have overcome my adversity and my life is now filled with joy and purpose.” Of course, you don’t need to walk, to be whole. You don’t need fame to be whole. I am convinced that even if he had never learned to walk that, with extravagant love and amazing grace, Nick Vujicic would have found a way to have a ridiculously good life. 

          Compare this Nick’s story with the man who got a lesson from Jesus in the scripture passage. It shows us the poverty of perceptions human beings often display. Nick Vujicic was surely perceived by his peers when he was growing up as disabled and less than a whole person. The rich young man was perceived as a well and whole.   

            All of us are wounded and broken. We live in communities that are hurting and on a planet that cries out in pain. We cry out especially for the community of Parkland, Florida and the parents and friends of the students and staff who died in the school shooting on Wednesday. We pray for their healing and the restoration of wholeness. That will be very difficult and may take a long time. Yet, the Gospel truth and very good news is that we can find healing and be made whole – we can experience sozo – by the grace of God and with the compassionate love and care of family, friends, neighbors, and community. In fact, God makes it possible for us to experience wholeness even while we are still wounded and broken. 

           God’s desires deeply that each of us experience healing and wholeness. God longs for each of us to be able to live lives with purpose, meaning, and fulfillment. That is the very clear witness of scripture and of our own experience. I do not believe God makes this happen for us in some supernatural way. Rather, God guides us to the resources that can facilitate our healing and promote our wholeness. God accompanies us on our journey and help us to find courage, resilience, and hope within ourselves.

           We often act as if we believe the love of God or the healing power of God are some discrete force that God holds in reserve and doles out only to those who God looks upon with favor. I do not believe that is how God works. In fact, I think that God’s love and God’s yearning for healing and wholeness permeate the whole creation and that when we pray for ourselves and for one another in faith, we tap into that stream of healing power. When we reach our in love, when we act for justice – one wounded healer to another – we participate in the ever-flowing stream of God’s desire for healing and wholeness for everyone and for the whole of creation. We become participants – cooperating with God for the well-being of all human persons, and especially those who are suffering. This is much more than just “positive thinking” or “sending out good vibes”. It is acting as instruments for God’s good intentions for all of creation. And if we envision it in this holistic way, then it is not just about the particular things we pray for – it is about how we live. Praying and acting for healing and wholeness become our way of life. 

           We cooperate with God’s will for healing and wholeness by putting healthy things into our bodies; by exercising our minds in study and conversation; by growing our spirits through worship and prayer; by building healthy relationships and extricating ourselves from unhealthy ones; by caring for the earth; and by striving for justice. Like the rich young man, we need to disentangle our sense of self-worth and our sense of wholeness from material things. The more we can connect our lives to the stream of God’s healing love that flows all around us, the more we are transformed in the process. When we come together to participate in this grand endeavor with God, we enter into a way of life and a community of love that is also a community of prayer and a community that actively seeks healing and wholeness in loving cooperation with God’s yearning for goodness. Friends, can there be any greater purpose for our lives than this? This is the adventure of a lifetime. I mean that, if we are willing to give ourselves over to it, this is a great adventure that we are privileged to be on with God and with one another. I also mean that is takes a lifetime. 

          One simple, but powerful way that we participate in the healing and wholeness-making work of God is through prayer. In a few minutes, we will have an opportunity to engage in healing prayer. I encourage you to think about your whole self and the whole selves of the people for whom you may be praying today. Don’t limit your prayers to physical afflictions. Don’t focus only on your own ailments.  In what All of these need to be in our prayers and our actions if we are to move toward wholeness for ourselves and all of creation. That is the pathway to the kin-dom of God and our own experience of wholeness and abundant life.  

Pastoral Prayer
          Hear our prayer, O God. Be merciful to us. Help us always to recognize our need for you. Help us to recognize all the places of brokenness and sin in our lives – those fostered by others and those we perpetrate ourselves. Lead us to the experience of healing and wholeness. Be our loving guide, leading us through the transforming power of your love and grace. Amen.