Sermon-Did Ye Get Healed?
Before I ever went to church I went to the church of Van. The church of Van Morrison that is. That’s what my friends and I used to call it when we listened to Van Morrison together during our college years. Morrison has long been a deep spiritual seeker, and his music has an openly religious quality to it. It’s a very hard music to categorize. He has many songs about God, and it’s through his music that I first heard hymns such as ‘Be Thou My Vision’ and ‘Closer Walk With Thee’. When I read the scripture this week and saw that the theme was about Jesus the healer, various Van Morrison songs started playing in my head. Morrison has the word healing in four song titles (1), and I began to hear the words of these beautiful tunes. Morrison says that as a singer he’s in “The Healing Game”, the name of one of those four songs. In a 1979 interview Morrison had this to say- “Music is a like a healing thing, and we’re all being healed. I’m being healed. That’s what I know, what I feel. It’s what I’m going through and we all go through. Any kind of art or music is involved in healing, whether it’s rock ‘n’ roll or classical music, it’s all healing. People go to a rock and roll show and they come away feeling better. All this is just foreground, but the background is something else” (2).
Morrison says that behind all the showmanship of music and the live concerts is an underlying process of healing. How does this healing work? What’s going on there? Let’s turn to the healing ministry of Jesus, and then we’ll return to Morrison’s point a little later in the sermon.
In our last couple of Sundays together we discussed new theologies that are taking evolution into account, and we talked about the importance of apocalyptic literature. Today I wanted to go somewhere different and talk about Jesus the healer. Because Lord knows our world is in need of so much healing. Healing people is a huge part of Jesus’ ministry. Our passage is right at the start of Mark’s gospel. After Jesus has withstood his temptations in the desert, he goes and calls his disciples, and then he begins casting out demons and healing people. We’ll talk about demons another Sunday, today we’ll focus on the healing, although they are related.
The next thing Jesus does after an exorcism is begin healing people. The text says, “As soon as theyleft the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them” (Mark 1:29-31). There are a few things to note about these lines. The first is that Jesus heals a woman. That’s the first person he heals, and it’s the beginning of several important healings of women in Mark’s gospel. This is significant because woman were lower class citizens in the patriarchal world of that time. For Jesus to begin by healing a woman is to immediately break down the prevailing social order. Everyone is worthy of being healed by Jesus, women too. Jesus begins his ministry by turning over the cultural tables.
It’s also worth noting that the woman has a fever. We can take this at face value, that the woman had an actual fever. But we can also take this word a little more broadly and metaphorically. That’s how St. Jerome took it in a sermon he preached in 400 AD. Jerome writes, “O that he would come to our house and enter and heal the fever of our sins by his command. For each and every one of us suffers from fever. When I grow angry, I am feverish. So many vices, so many fevers” (3). When we take words like fever a bit more broadly we get a richer picture of the wisdom being communicated- which is that we have many fevers, and Jesus, i.e. God, can heal us of those afflictions.
The last thing to note is that it says that after the woman was healed, “She began to serve them”. Now this might sound like some patriarchal nonsense, that as soon as the woman was healed she began serving the men like a good woman should do. But what this phrase is actually portraying is what a faithful response to being healed by God’s love look like- it’s to begin humbly serving others. Because when God’s love begins to heal us, we know that it came from somewhere else. We’re not the source of that healing, but its recipient. And that makes us grateful and humble, and the proper response, says the gospel, is to serve and heal others in return.
Continuing on in our passage, it says that later in the evening the “the whole city gathered around the door” of Simon’s house. People from all over had heard of Jesus’ healing ways and they came to be healed. It says that Jesus, “Cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons” (v.1:31-34). And here we get a real sense of Jesus the healer. It’s a big part of what he does. And I think we can look at this in two ways. In many ancient and indigenous cultures there were men and women known as healers. Shamans were healers, and there were many folk healers too. For a long time our scientific materialist worldview dismissed these things as the remnants of an ignorant past. But science is increasingly coming to understand the methods that these healers used, and starting to realize that there was real healing going on. So I think on one level it would be safe to say that Jesus was probably a real healer to some significant degree. Today he might’ve even been a reiki master or something like that.
But the point of Jesus the healer goes beyond just this dimension of physical healing. There’s a deeper theological point being made, a different level of wisdom being pointed to. Jesus is also soul healer. We can start by noting that scripture abounds with references to God as a healing force. Psalm 30 says, “O LORD my God, I cried out to You, and you healed me” (30:2). Psalm 107 says, “He sent His word and healed them” (107:20). Jeremiah says, “Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved, for You are my praise” (17:14).And in the book of Chronicles God says to his people, "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). So the Bible clearly communicates that God is a healer, and can heal us too. But how do we access this healing? That was the burning question for me this week. Howcan we be healed by God? And what dowe needto do for this to happen? It’s no good just talking about this stuff, how does it work?
We get an answer in the Chronicles passage that I just read. God says that those who “humble themselves and pray and seek my face” will be healed. And that’s exactly what we see Jesus doing in the next lines of our passage. It says, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him” (v. 1:35-36). After a day of healing people, Jesus needed to connect to God again, to open himself to God’s flowing grace and get topped up. Jesus often goes out and prays alone in the gospels. This is the Source of his healing power. And it’s through prayer that we too can access God’s healing love. But we must first surrender and open ourselves to being healed, or it won’t happen. If we’re closed down and contracted, or shut down from things like bitterness and anger, then God’s healing river will be blocked. We must open first, there’s an activecomponent to being healed. Prayer helps with this opening. There’s a similar process of surrender that happens in the Twelve Steps of AA. Yes, it’s God who restores the addict back to health and wholeness. But first in Step 2 it says, “I came to believe in a power greater than myself, that could restore me to sanity”. Instead of sanity we could say restore me to health. And then the next step says, “Made a decision to turn my will and my life over to God as I understood him”. So it’s God’s loving grace that restores us. But we must firstbecome willingto turn ourselves over to that restoring power. We must surrender and open to being healed.
As I pondered this subject this week a song started playing in my head, as it often does when I’m thinking about the scriptures. I could just hear this one repeating phrase, “Lord help me, Jesus”. It turns out it’s a song called ‘Why Me’ by Kris Kristofferson. It’s a good example of someone finding the willingness to surrender and open to God’s healing. We don’t all have to be down and out before we find the willingness to be healed, like the songs protagonist does. But the song’s a good example of the kind of surrender we’ve been talking about. It says:
Lord help me, Jesus, I've wasted it soHelp me Jesus I know what I amBut now that I know that I've needed you soHelp me, Jesus, my soul's in your handTry me, Lord, if you think there's a wayI can try to repay all I've taken from youMaybe Lord I can show someone elseWhat I've been through myself, on my way back to youLord help me, Jesus, I've wasted it soHelp me Jesus I know what I amBut now that I know that I've needed you soHelp me, Jesus, my soul's in your hand
There’s something heartbreaking but also beautiful about this person opening up to being restored to wholeness. You can hear that the healing has begun. This week I called a retired clergy colleague to ask this question about how we access God’s healing. He’s one of these people who have done a lot of contemplative practice in their life, and his answers often have the kind of hands on depth that I’m looking for. His answer to me- to wake up every morning and say the prayer, “God, take everything from me that’s not love”. Take everything from me that’s not love. That’s a powerful practice. And a hard one too, I might add, as I discovered this week while trying it. I could feel parts of myself that wanted to be angry, that wanted to be violent, that didn’t want to surrender those options. But allowing those things to be burned off a bit also felt really good. I felt closer to who I know I’m supposed to be in this life. It’s a prayer practice that I’ll continue to do.
When we open to God or to Jesus in this way (depending on who we feel more comfortable with), we’re opening up to the baptism by fire that John the Baptist spoke about. John the Baptist says that Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. That fire is the fire of purification. It burns out the impurities in us, those fevers that are afflicting us, like Simon’s mother-in-law. Jesus is like a giant magnet, pulling all the nails of sorrow and pain out of us. We just need to open to this fire and allow all that’s not serving us, all that we can’t leave behind, to be burnt away. The key is in the opening, in saying, “Help me God, my soul’s in your hands”. As Van Morrison says in his song ‘Till We Get the Healing Done’, “Till you deal with the poison inside/ Sometimes you’ve got to sit down and cry/ When you deal with the poison inside/ Till we get the healing done/ Till we get the healing done”. To let God extract the poison we must open and ask for the healing to be done. We must willingly undergo a baptism by fire.
And it’s this opening up to the channels of the Holy Spirit that I think is part of the process of healing that Van Morrison says goes on at concerts. The music can open us up. Maybe we clap, maybe we dance, maybe we just close our eyes and listen, but music can open up our closed channels and let the healing flow in. And in his song ‘Did Ye Get Healed?”
Van Morrison asks:
I wanna know did you get the feelin?Did you get it down in your soul? I wanna know did you get the feelin?And did the feeling grow?
Morrison wants to know, when we started to feel the spirit flowing in us, did we open to it and let it grow? And what happens if we do?
It gets stronger when you get the feeling, When you get it down in your soulAnd it makes you feel goodIt makes you feel whole
It makes you feel whole. That’s exactly right. That’s what God’s healing does, it restores us to wholeness. But we must open to it first. Like Morrison says, “did the feeling grow?” It can be easy to close off, even in those moments of grace. We’ve all had various levels of trauma and pain in our lives. There are many parts of us that are hardened. We have so many fevers. Will we allow ourselves to be healed? That’s what Morrison asks in the last stanza of the song:
When the spirit moves youAnd it fills you through and throughEvery morning at the break of dayDid ye get healed?
Friends, let’s allow ourselves to be healed. I know, we all have those voices inside of us that say, “I’m not worthy of love”, or “I’m no good”. If we have those voices they probably came from our childhoods. And I’m hear to tell you that those voices are liars. God’s healing love is for us all. Jesus even heals lepers, people who were quarantined off on the outskirts of society, people who the rest of society was horrified and afraid by. But Jesus walks up and touches them, and heals them too. God’s healing love is for all. Let us ask God to burn away all that is not love within us. And when the healing has begun, we’ll be able to heal others in return. We can get ourselves into the healing game.
May it be so. Amen. ~~~~
“Till you live in the glory of the One
Till you live in the land of the sun
Till you feel your life has just begun
Till we get the healing done
Till we get the healing done
Till we dwell in the house of the Lord
Till you don’t have to worry no more
Till you open a brand new world
Till we get the healing done
Till we get the healing done”
- Van Morrison, ‘Till We Get the Healing Done’
(1) ‘Till We Get the Healing Done’; ‘The Healing Game’; ‘And the Healing Has Begun’; ‘Did Ye Get Healed?’
(2) Quoted in: Peter Mills, Hymns to the Silence- Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison. p.116.
(3) Jerome quoted in- Lamar Jr. Williamson, Mark- Interpretation Series, p.55.