If today’s message ended with the lament of Job in his pain and suffering, I would end the sermon right now. But, I will not. Today’s readings offer hope and chicken soup for our souls.
But first, a little side trip. The Gospel reading tells us that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Did you ever think about what Peter was thinking? I have. I bet Peter was thinking that if Jesus heals her the nagging will start all over again. “Peter, when are you going to get a job? Why don’t you go back to fishing so you can support your wife and kids instead of following this wild-eyed preacher all over the backwoods of Galilee?” Poor Peter!
After the healing, the Gospel tells us that Jesus healed many and drove out demons. Jesus was ministering to the people. Jesus is the face of God. God ministers to us. Yes, God is the Presence ministering to us. Blessing is a form of ministry. The Hebrew word for blessing is barukh which is related to a Hebrew word for knee. The beautiful symbolism is that our God bends God’s knee toward us in ministry and blessing. We are created in the image and likeness of God. God blesses us so that we can flourish. God ministers to us; we minister to one another.
Jesus sent his disciples out to heal, bless and minister. Now Jesus sends us as ministers to one another. We are to be people who bless others. We are created in the image and likeness of the Living Presence
Why bless others? Because we are all troubled by demons. In Jesus times, the demon was epilepsy. In our day, I think we can define demon as anything that keeps us from flourishing. Consumerism, greed, addiction, fear, hatred, and aging are among the demons that keep us from being what we can be.
I was talking a friend lately about her husband’s illness. She concluded by saying, old age is a witch. I might have called the demon something else by using a similar word. Lillian carter, President Carter’s mother, overcame the demon of aging by ministering to others as a nurse in the Peace Corps when she was 70 years old.
I have spent more time going to movies than I have in years. These movies taught me something about dealing with demons. First, it was Unbroken. Louie Zamperini, an Olympic hopeful who ran in Hitler’s 1936 games in Berlin, was in the Army Air Corp. His B24 crashed into the Pacific on a search and rescue mission. Louie was adrift for 47 days eating an occasional fish or albatross and drinking rain water. His real Job moment came when he was imprisoned by the Japanese. One camp guard, The Bird, delighted in beating Louie whenever he felt like it. Louie survived and returned home to be plagued by the demons of violence and addiction. His wife urged him to go hear a young new revival preacher in Los Angeles—Billy Graham. Louie began to minister to others. He chose forgiveness over revenge and returned to Japan to meet with his captors. He carried the Olympic torch in the 1998 games in Japan. He died last year at 97.
Next came American Sniper, the story of Chris Kyle who had the most kills of any known sniper. The movie left me disappointed because, unlike the book, it did not portray the demons plaguing Chris. Each time he returned from a tour in Afghanistan, he seemed to be more and more estranged from his wife and others. After his last tour, he was tortured by violence and drinking—PTSD. A VA counselor helped him get rid of his demons. He began to teach disabled vets how to shoot. The trial of the vet who shot Chris on the firing range begins this week.
Finally, it was Selma. Martin Luther King took on the demon of racism, not with guns and bullets but with Christian nonviolence. He overcame the demon of racism, but his work must go on.
Each one of these movies put me in a Job-like stupor. We too can help one another overcome our demons. How? By blessing one another. Bless, do not curse. Our words and thoughts have power that can heal. John O’Donohue, Irish spiritual writer, teaches us how to bless. He reports the results of an experiment where machines in a room were tossing coins. Heads and tails came up 50% of the time. Then the experimenters added a new wrinkle. They had people put a slip which said heads or tails in the hands of the experimenters. Guess what? If the slip said heads, heads came up 75% of the time. Our words carry the power to heal.
Let’s start blessing one another—friends, enemies and strangers. You can even bless the person who pulls out in front of you on 50. Do not use the middle finger blessing. Rather, say something like, “May you have safe travel.” We bless so that others might flourish. I talked to our rector about a particularly bothersome person and he told me, “Sometimes, things get to a point where the only option is to ignore.” The next day, he emailed me. “Pat, remember we are to bless our enemies.” He had gone from preaching to meddling but I got the message!
There are many ways we can bless one another, help one another flourish with God life. Today we have members of Helping Hands with us. The take folks to the doctor, provide help with home repairs, etc… They will be in the narthex after Eucharist. We also who do people in TGO Meals on and hospice care. Still others do grief work. We are fortunate to have so many people blessing other people in TGO.
I conclude with John Donohue’s blessing for us in our Retirement:
This is where your life has arrived,
After all the years of effort and toil;
Look back with graciousness and thanks
On all your great and quiet achievements.
You stand on the shore of a new invitation
To open your life to what is left undone;
Let your heart enjoy a different rhythm
When drawn to the wonder of other horizons.
Have courage for a new approach to time;
Allow it to slow until you find freedom
To draw alongside the mystery you hold
And befriend your own beauty of soul.
Now is the time to enjoy your heart’s desire,
To live the dreams you’ve waited for,
To awaken the depths beyond your work
And enter into your infinite source.