By Leanne Noland
Associate Pastor, Effingham Centenary UMC
Good Morning Bishop Keaton, members of the Cabinet, guests, and my fellow brothers and sisters of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference. I am so excited and humbled at the opportunity to bring the message to you all this morning, and what makes this moment all the more special is that this is my first opportunity to preach as a fully ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.
As we wrap our heads around all that has been discussed these past few days at Annual Conference, and what Healing the Circle means for us in our particular contexts, I thought it may be helpful to share a healing resource with you. This resource, I’ve found, has actually served as a kind of How-To Guide for me when it comes to emotional and spiritual healing, and the best part about this resource?: It’s portable.
I’ve found one of the most endearing features about scripture is that it doesn’t sugarcoat anything for us. The narratives in here are messy, and involve messy people with messy problems, who are often times in need of a whole lot of healing. That’s why, when we come face-to-face with wounded hearts and shattered trust, the Bible serves as a fantastic How-To Guide when it comes to the healing process.
So, without further ado, I invite you to journey with me throughout scripture to unveil three useful steps that should be implemented if we ever hope to successfully heal the circle within our communities.
Step 1: There needs to be a particular kind of leadership in place in order to successfully guide and facilitate the healing process. When healing in needed, it is implied that wounds have been opened, and people are in pain. Often times, there is a heavy amount of emotion and turmoil connected to these wounds. A successful leader of healing is able to rise above the fray of emotion in order to make decisions that are healthy and in alignment with God’s will for the people.
A great example of this kind of leadership can be found in Moses. He’s in his late 80’s and has a speech impediment, but time after time, Moses reveals himself to be a leader who is able to keep his head above the confusion, and his heart open to the will of God. In Exodus chapter 10, following the plague of darkness that sweeps over Egypt, Moses finds himself face to face with a high-strung Pharaoh who, after refusing yet again to free the enslaved Israelites, begins to yell death threats at Moses in verse 28. Moses responds in verse 29 in a way that appears to be quite calm and collected. A leader determined not to get swept up in the heat of the moment. A leader focused on the end goal: physical, spiritual, and emotional healing for his people who had endured the nightmare of slavery for far too long.
Moses also exemplifies the idea that a good leader in the healing process is one who is able to be comfortable for the sake of the healing mission. Moses eventually leads the Israelites out of Egypt and into the desert. That HAD to have been an uncomfortable decision for Moses to make, and an uncomfortable conversation for Moses to have with his followers. “Hey guys, let’s go into the desert without anything to drink for three days. It will lead us to a place of healing, I promise!” In the midst of the whining and complaining from the thirsty bunch, Moses is still able to rise above the fray of intense emotions and talk with God. In Godly fashion, God delivers both water and eventually food.
My “Prom Queen” mentality yearns for everyone to like me. I don’t want to be uncomfortable. A part of me even wants to stay for a moment in the intense fray of emotions that comes with a wounded people. However, the Prom Queen mentality does not lead to healing. How can you hear God’s voice if you, as a leader, sit in the middle of chaos and confusion? How can trying to make everyone comfortable ever make any one person truly healthy or healed?
Moses’ brother Aaron was, arguably, a better speaker than Moses, but because he had a Prom King mentality, he would fail as a successful leader of healing. When left to his own devices, Aaron quickly implemented a jewelry party and erected a golden calf idol at the request of the people. This kind of distracting, harmful behavior doesn’t facilitate healing. Being a people-pleaser often times just creates more chaos.
Once proper leadership is established, we are going to take a cue from Mark chapter five in the next step of our How-To Guide to healing. It is here where Jesus asks a demon-possessed man what his name is. Once the man reveals that his name is “Legion,” and the demons within him beg Jesus to be released, the demons were then sent into two thousand pigs nearby who subsequently jumped off a cliff and drowned in a lake.
This narrative is most likely appalling to PETA, but very helpful for us as we strive towards healing. Step 2 of our How-To Guide suggests that, we must humble ourselves and honestly name our demons before any true healing can probably take place. Once the wounded and mentally ill man named his demons to Jesus – he was freed from them.
Humbling ourselves as individuals and as a community while honestly naming the demons in our midst can be extremely uncomfortable. For those of us who are determined to always having an enemy in life…for those of us who thrive on having an “us vs. them” mentality…what are we truly holding onto? Why do we find the need to make fellow sinners “worse” than us? Perhaps we need to come out and name the demon of fear. The fear that if THAT sinner is loved by God, then why I am working so hard to be righteous? The fear that if everyone truly loves every neighbor, my piety will no longer be held in high esteem. The fear that I may no longer be special…because everyone is special in the eyes of God.
Or maybe we need to name the demon of ego. Is the ministry about the mission of making disciples or is the ministry about you? It’s amazing how quickly the most dedicated of Christians can turn a cause or ministry into their very own idol. The failure of the ministry is then largely viewed as a failure of self. OR…maybe some of us well-meaning United Methodists need to ask ourselves, “Are we really doing these things out of love, or should we name the demon of ‘control?’”
Our friend Legion in Mark 5 also demonstrates that we have to be willing to part with our named demons in order to become truly healed people. The demons within Legion were begging Jesus to be released, but do we want to part with our demons so easily? Sometimes it’s comforting to hold on to our anger, our shame, our ego. Our demons can become so familiar to us that they begin to feel like a warm blanket. So the next time you’re wondering why the healing process doesn’t seem to be working for you or your community, perhaps it should be examined whether or not we are willing to honestly name our wounds, our demons, and if we are truly ready to be freed from their weight.
Finally, we head back to the Old Testament to allow the story of Jacob and Esau to illustrate our third step in our How-To Guide to Healing. These brothers show us what the healing process realistically does or does not look like. You see, Jacob was literally a trickster from the womb, and after stealing his older twin brother’s birthright, Esau had plenty of reasons to be sore at his little brother. There were many open wounds within this family dynamic.
The two meet up years later and Esau is accompanied by four hundred men leaving Jacob ready to pee in his pants, and understandably so. Jacob knows that he’s really screwed up the relationship. However, much to Jacob’s surprise, Esau runs up to his little manipulative brother in Genesis 33:4, hugs him, and kisses Jacob. Jacob tries to bribe Esau while continuously referring to him as, “lord,” letting Esau and us know that Jacob is accepting blame in the relationship. Esau refuses Jacob’s gifts and the two go their separate ways. We don’t hear about Esau again until the end of Genesis 35 when the two brothers reunite to bury their father, Isaac.
Even though fault is admitted on Jacob’s behalf and forgiveness is granted in an Old Testament kind-of-way by Esau, thus, paving the way for healing between the two twins, this particular healing situation doesn’t result in birthday parties, weekly card nights, and family trips to Camel Land. Sometimes healing can happen without having a relationship tied up in a pretty bowed. Sometimes healing can happen with things being left unsaid. Sometimes healing can occur without looking like a Hallmark Movie.
Our personalities are not one-size-fits all and neither are our beliefs, even within The United Methodist Church. To accept, forgive, and love one another throughout the healing process, we must be honest with ourselves and realize that not all healed relationships warrant friendship bracelets. That doesn’t mean we can’t coexist…but it also doesn’t mean that we have to force inauthentic interactions that aren’t necessarily helpful or healthy to either party.
Is it disappointing to realize not all relationships come to a tried and true perfect conclusion once healing begins? Sure. But what these examples show us is that we as mere humans are not in the healing business. We simply don’t have the power to do so. Healing, my friends, is in the Holy Spirit’s job description. So, take “healing hearts” off of your to-do this list. We can help facilitate change as strong leaders, but, ultimately, people cannot heal people.
Psalm 103:2-3 says:
Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
In Hebrew, the word for “disease” could also mean “grief.” Only the One who created us has the power to heal whatever grieves us…whatever grieves this community…this nation…this world.
After we are wounded…and we begin to heal, a scar will form our hearts. Just like the extra collagen used to scar wounds on our skin, our hearts at first will feel tough. There may even be an occasional stabbing pain as the scar begins to take shape. We may find ourselves irritable, cautious, and defensive. Healing may not feel or look like healing at all. However, over time, these scars begin to soften and flatten and actually become more sensitive, just as the scars on our skin become increasingly sensitive to motion and UV rays.
I would argue, that once God heals our aching hearts, we come out on the other side as more knowledgeable, more compassionate, and more empathetic Christians. And just as Rev. Cox explained that we are stronger when we are united…we are stronger when we use our past pains to rally around those whose hearts are currently grieving.
You see, just as a virus can be infectious, so can healing. Once healed by God’s undeserving love and grace, we can then use our softened, healing, empathetic hearts to ensure all others who are stricken with some kind of emotional or spiritual disease can know that they are accepted, just as we have been. And, thus, the Circle of Healing can begin. For as United Methodists, we are united in mission, united in Christ, united in sin…and in our need for Spirit’s healing power.
Let’s heal together, learn together, and be sure not to hoard all of God’s grace for ourselves. For it is by Christ’s wounds that WE are healed, and with our wounded, scarred hearts, we can create a safe, compassionate space for future wounded disciples who may humbly love and serve the Ultimate Healer.
Praise God who knows all about us, and yet, loves and forgives us just the same. Praise God who has gifted us with the ultimate How-To Guide when it comes to healing. Praise God who, in the form of Jesus Christ, understands the pain of physical and emotional open wounds, and praise God for the healing future that awaits the bold, scarred leaders of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference. Amen.