Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Sermon: Become Wounded Healers

For an audio version of this sermon click here

This morning I bring you good news. The good news, paraphrasing Tim Keller, is that you and I are more broken, so much more wounded, and wicked than we ever imagined.  However much you imagine yourself to have broken areas, sin in your life, triple it. We are a broken and deeply wounded people. The good news is also that we are more loved and accepted by God in Christ than we ever dared hope for. The degree to which we recognize and come to grips with these two concepts, is the degree to which we grasp the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ and the love of God. It means that the deeper we see our own flaws, sins and brokenness, how much more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to us. And on the other hand, the more aware we are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able we are to drop our denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of our sin. To fully grasp the good news and to be good news to others, we as the church must be a hospital for sinners.

The Church is a hospital for the sick, the wounded, and the broken. Imagine for a moment that the United States is conquered by Canada, stay with me, I know it’s a stretch, and we all are under their control. The Canadian military drives up and down A1A keeping us under martial law. In the process of the conquest they brutalized people you know, your neighbors, your friends, your family, let’s say they completely burned down the campus here at Trinity. I don’t say the church because even if this campus gets burned down you will always be the church. Then, in our scenario, let’s say that a person in our community decided that they would work for the Canadians. His job would be to go home to home and demand money to help support the Canadian regime. He has a specific quota he has to meet for the Canadians but any money he can extort from his community beyond his quota he gets to keep and in fact he does that and becomes one of the wealthiest in this community. How would you feel about such a person? If they showed up at your BBQ would you hang out with them? If they wanted to worship with you in the tents erected over Trinity’s burned remains, would you let them?  Probably not, they’d have their wealth, but they would be social pariahs, outcasts. They would be lost to the community.

In Matthew 9, Jesus is traveling and he encounters a man named Matthew, yes the very same Matthew, and he is sitting at a tax booth. He is a tax collector, a traitorous profession in the eyes of the Jewish people. He is working for the Canadians, the Roman Empire. Jesus says to him in his tax booth “Bleep you man! Look what you’ve done to my people for your own selfish gain. You have turned your back on your people and your God!” No, he says “Follow me”. Not only that, but later Jesus goes to his home. The home provided for and supplied by extortions from the people and many other tax collectors, traitors come to eat with Jesus. Matthew 9 says tax collectors and sinners. Traitors and outcasts. Prostitutes, drug addicts, alcoholics, murderers, thieves, rapists, homosexuals, abortionists, traitors and outcasts came to eat with Jesus. And the upright in the community, the righteous, those who didn’t make mistakes, who followed the rules, spoke to the disciples of Jesus and asked “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this (don’t ever talk about Jesus around Jesus, he’s got great hearing)…On hearing this, Jesus said, “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick….it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come call the righteous, but sinners.”

Do you need Jesus? Do you want Jesus to call you, to seek after you? If you are righteous, he will not call. If you believe you’re basically ok, you try hard enough, then what need do you have for a savior? The good news is that you and I are more broken, wounded, and wicked than we ever imagined and that we are more loved and accepted by God in Christ than we ever dared hope for.  Jesus, in his own words, “came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Later, Jesus, after his resurrection, also said “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you!” We are, as much as the Holy Spirit indwells us, a part of the body of Christ and we are sent to continue Jesus’ mission to seek and save the lost, to love, serve, and eat meals with traitors and outcasts. The Church, we as the church, are called to be a hospital for sinners. A place for the sick to gather together and to be healed through each other and by Jesus the great physician.

Too often we view the church as a stronghold or fortress where we gather in the righteous and protect ourselves from others. Just last week, I had this experience. I’m part of missional community of 13 people and one of the many things we do is we have a family meal together once a week because we believe we’re a spiritual family and we need to reconnect, we need to celebrate,  we need to eat, we need to listen to each other’s stories. We invite others to join us as we eat together and last week a person joined us and after the meal was over, he spoke to me away from the others and he said he was looking forward to coming back and sharing more of his story, who he is and what he’s been through. He said though that he was a little wary of telling others about his past. He said “I can’t tell anyone this shame I have in my past.”

First are you having meals or informal gatherings were you would encounter people like this, and if you encountered someone like this, who said “I can’t tell anyone this shame I have in my past”, what do you think is the best way to guide them through the process of healing? I’ll give you three options. 1. You could redirect the awkward conversation and slowly meld into the crowd. 2. You could say “Wow, what is it? I’ve never really done anything shameful. We’re all really good here so we can help you. 3. You could say “You’d be surprised of the shame in my own past.” The answer of course is number three. We can avoid brokenness, we can pretend we’re perfect, or we can empathize with the wound. If we pretend that we are completely righteous, that we don’t make any mistakes, we will actually never fulfill our mission of loving and healing others. The truth is those of us who can identify with a particular wound in our past make the best healers, wounded healers, for those particular wounds in others.

The famous psychotherapist and psychiatrist Carl Jung used this term, the wounded healer, based partly on the Greek myth of Chiron. Chiron, for those of you not up to date on your Greek mythology, was a centaur, part man and part horse. In one story Chiron is accidently injured by an arrow from Hercules. The arrow hits him in the knee, which isn’t that bad because Chiron is immortal, but the tip of the arrow was coated with poison from the blood of the Hydra. His wound would never completely heal, and in the process of searching for a way to heal himself, Chiron became an excellent healer. In fact he becomes known as a healer and source of healing knowledge in other myths. It’s through his wound that his capacity for healing becomes so much greater. He is a wounded healer. Carl Jung pointed out that it is partially a psychotherapist’s personal acceptance of his or her own suffering and imperfection that enhances their capacity to heal others.

There are some things that cannot be merely intellectually grasped or learned in a book. There are certain things that only life teaches you. Healing others as Jesus healed – body and spirit, or being a part of that healing process is one such thing. The wounded healer is someone who is broken so that they can be open, so that the people who come to them can be treated with the soul rather than just the mind. Their pain is more than theory, but something felt and a real spiritual healing connection is made. When we approach others as a wounded healer, we come not as a righteous master, but as a brother or sister who’s been there before.

Marsha Linehan was diagnosed at age seventeen as schizophrenic. She was psychiatrically instituionalzed for more than two years and was described in the medical records of that institution as being perhaps the most severely disturbed, deeply withdrawn and difficult to manage patient on the unit. She would violently thrash about. She burned herself with cigarettes. She cut herself on her wrists, arms, legs, and stomach. When she was unable to burn or cut herself, she would bang her head violently against walls and floors. Then, when she was 23, something happened. 

Marsha Linehan moved forward in life after this pivotal moment. She became Dr. Marsha Linehan with a Ph.D. in psychology and is today one of the most prominent clinicians and researchers in the psychotherapy world today. She says “I decided to get supersuicidal people, the very worst cases, because I figured these are the most miserable people in the world – they think they’re evil, that they’re bad, bad, bad – and I understood that they weren’t…I understood their suffering because I’d been there, in hell, with no idea how to get out.” “I was in hell...And I made a vow: when I get out, I’m going to come back and get others out of here.”

This is the last sermon in a series called Liberating Grace where we’ve examined the steps we take to find healing in our brokenness. As Dr. Linehan pointed out, it’s usually not in a specific miraculous moment that we are healed, but rather it’s a process. As we reach the last of the steps, this process, when we find ourselves far enough out of whatever broken system or habits we’ve been healed from, it’s important that we reach out to others as wounded healers. The best spiritual physicians, are the ones who have been there, the best sponsors are those who have walked the steps. If we are to be a hospital for sinners, I want you and I to be the best physicians available in that hospital. If you’ve already overcome something, like divorce, addiction, anger, materialism, self-righteousness, then ask yourself how might God send me as he sent Jesus, how might I be a wounded healer for others. If you’re in the middle of the steps or just beginning to admit your life isn’t perfect, be on the lookout for someone God might send to you to be a wounded healer in your life and look forward to the day, make a vow as Dr. Linehan did that when you get out, you’re going to come back and get others out of the same destructive patterns.

Before we conclude this series, I’d like to look at our primary passage for today which is Hebrews 4:15. As you turn there, Hebrews is one of the last letters in the back of your bible, let us be reminded that while we are called to be the Church, the body of Christ sent out into the world, to be wounded healers, we have one who said that he will be with us always, we have one who is THE wounded healer, we have one who is the Great Physician, we have one who is our high priest, we have the one, the messiah, the Christ, Jesus. 

Hebrews 4:15 says:

or we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-- yet was without sin.

Before the Jewish Temple was burned to the ground, there were many different priests who performed all the different upkeep and functions at the temple. There were priests for offering sacrifices, there were priests for taking care of the articles of the temple, there were priests who played instruments, and each year there was one priest, called the high priest, who on a particular day would actually enter into the most holy space of the temple, the holy of holies and offer atonement for the people by sprinkling blood on the ark of the covenant. The legend goes that before the high priest would go behind the veil into this room, the other priests would tie a rope around his leg in case he made any error in the presence of God and was struck down, so they could pull him out without having to enter into God’s holy, almighty presence. This all changed, of course, with Jesus. The blood of animals, a temporary shadow, no longer needs to be offered on a regular basis because the blood of Jesus is forever and all sufficient. The day he died, the veil which separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple was torn by an earthquake, and after his resurrection Jesus ascending into heaven into the real throne room, the very presence of God as our high priest. One of the reasons he’s particularly qualified to be our high priest, the one who stands before God on our account, is because he took on human nature. If he is to represent us, then he must be us. He is a high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses. He, as the wounded healer, as the great Physician is able to offer comfort like none other.

“There was a man named Booth Tucker who was conducting evangelistic meetings in the Salvation Army Citadel in Chicago. One night, after he had preached on the sympathy of Jesus, a man came forward and asked Mr. Tucker how he could talk about a loving, understanding sympathetic God. “If your wife had just died, like mine has,” the man said, “and your babies were crying for their mother who would never come back, you wouldn’t be saying what you’re saying.”

A few days later Mr. Tucker’s wife was killed in a train wreck. Her body was brought to Chicago and carried to the Citadel for the funeral. After the service the bereaved preacher looked down into the silent face of his wife and then turned to those who were attending. “The other day when I was here,” he said, “a man told me that, if my wife had just died and my children were crying for their mother, I would not be able to say that Christ was understanding and sympathetic, or that He was sufficient for every need. If that man is here, I want to tell him that Christ is sufficient. My heart is broken, it is crushed, but it has a song, and Christ put it there. I want to tell that man that Jesus Christ speaks comfort to me today.” The man was there, and he came and knelt beside the casket while Booth Tucker introduced him to Jesus Christ.

We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. The Greek that is translated “sympathize” here means “to suffer along with”. Jesus suffers along with us in all of our sufferings. We have in Him a high priest with an unequaled capacity for sympathizing with us in all the dangers and sorrows and trials which come our way in life. Isaiah 53:3-5 describes Jesus as a man of sorrow:

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

Literally by His wounds we are healed and in Him we have a wounded healer, someone who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, able to sympathize with us and heal us as the great physician. The gospel, the good news is that you and I are more broken, wounded, and wicked than we ever imagined and that we are more loved and accepted by Christ than we ever dared hope for. The next verse in Hebrews, verse 16 says “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” When we turn to this wounded healer, this great physician Jesus, he greets us with grace, liberating grace that transforms us into wounded healers ourselves who God uses to help others and to point them also to the love and liberating grace of Jesus Christ.

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