We adopted most of the Roman Catholic saints when we separated from the Church of Rome in the 1500s. Since then we’ve added folks along the way, expanding our corporate identity beyond apostles, virgin martyrs and weighty theologians to include people like William White, the first Episcopal bishop of the United States, Julia Chester Emory who pioneered women’s ministry in the 1800s and Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist!
We like to name our churches after saints. Some are fairly common, like St. John the Baptist, others are more obscure like one of my favorites, St. Swithin. Here in Ballard, we are St. Luke’s, one of five St. Luke’s in the Diocese of Olympia, which is made up of 90 churches in Western Washington. Interestingly, we were originally St. Stephen’s but somewhere along the way the congregation went through a major upheaval and was renamed for Luke, the physician, evangelist and gospel writer.
It was an inspired and prophetic change for this church because in the 1960s a new wind from the Spirit blew into town and transformed this congregation. It was the era of the charismatic renewal movement in the Episcopal Church and St. Luke’s was right in the center of the excitement. All manner of people began to experience God’s presence in very tangible and transformative ways. Enthusiasm for prayer, worship and service grew. People were hungry to learn from Scripture and to develop the gifts of the Spirit in their own lives.
Many were healed. Some physically. Some emotionally and psychologically. Some permanently and others for a time. If you visit my office and look at the top of my bookshelf, you will find copies of the many, many books on healing and the gifts of the Spirit written by lay and clergy ministers from St. Luke’s. There are still hundreds of tapes of sermons, teachings and workshops on healing in body, mind and spirit downstairs in the archives. And there are some present who remember and continue as part of that ongoing movement of God’s Spirit.
They, along with others share the ministry of praying with and for others in a ministry of healing. At this celebration of the Feast of St. Luke we will offer anointing with oil and prayer for those who wish to receive it in the name of Jesus, our great physician.
Most of us weren’t around during the 1960s, 70s and 80s when thousands flocked to this little corner of Seattle bringing curiosity and hope along with their wounds. I can only imagine that there was a strong desire on the part of many to get as close as possible to the source of love and light, hope and healing. We all want to be at the center of the action, right up close.
Maybe you’ve waited in line for hours to get the best spot in the house or stood outside a stage door to catch an autograph, or walked for miles to a place of pilgrimage. We can measure our importance and impact by how near we are to the most important person in the room. It would be so great to be either at the right or left hand of the one we admire and desire. And if they have time for us, pay attention to us, and share a small measure of their glory with us… Wow! We feel incredibly special and set apart. We can dine out on the story of the time we were noticed by ______ (fill in the blank) for years to come.
That’s what happened for the disciples of Jesus. They witnessed lives transformed around him. They saw people healed from physical infirmities and delivered from the demons of mental and emotional distress. They experienced a new sense of belonging in the community of those who became brothers and sisters beyond the ties of blood. And they discovered a radical love and acceptance from a man who had neither wealth nor power but still drew many to himself.
Still they wanted more. More influence. More recognition. More approval. More status. More attention. It wasn’t enough to simply be among the twelve disciples, who were closest to him. James and John jockey for a more intimate connection. They want to be special. They want Jesus to give them places of privilege. And that all-too-human desire threatens to tear their fellowship apart and set back their spiritual development.
I’m so glad that this type of behavior doesn’t surprise Jesus. Diocesan Convention is coming up next week and I know I’ll probably have to wrestle all over again with my desire to be special and noticed. My own petty jealousies and resentments will make me cringe. And I won’t be alone. Many clergy, including my dear and saintly husband struggle in the company of other clergy. We aren’t nearly as kind and compassionate to one another as Jesus hopes we would be. Pray for me.
There is an antidote to this common human failing. I feel like I should alert you right now that you might want to tune out from what’s to follow. It’s not easy. It’s not nearly as simple as being a nice person, or being kind to strangers or even following the rules. The solution for our human tendency to place ourselves above others and to fake holiness by proximity isn’t complex but it’s not achievable on our own power.
It begins by allowing ourselves to be served. It starts with receiving. To be delivered from all the ways we try to separate ourselves from others, promote our own interests and make ourselves look good, we are to join Jesus in his calling through baptism. This is the same baptism that took him first into the wilderness to confront and repel the demons of worldly success, relevance and privilege. It is a baptism that foreshadows death; death to self-governance and self-will and surrender to the will of God. It is baptism in which we are raised to new life and given an eternal identity as the dear child of God, the beloved one. It is nothing we earn or deserve but is conferred upon us as gift and blessing.
We receive the cup of new life when we drink the cup of Christ’s death and resurrection. When we share this cup, we are united not only with the eternal and holy one but with all our sisters and brothers. And we are initiated into a life of holy service in Christ’s name. We who receive may then give. We who are forgiven, forgive. We who are served, are called to serve others. We who are healed and delivered have the power to bring healing and deliverance to this wounded world.
Today each one of us has our unmet needs and wounds both open and secret. Some have been with us from childhood and involve trauma, neglect or abuse. Some are the result of medical or mental conditions that are chronic and debilitating. We may have ongoing struggles with anger, lust, addiction, self-hatred, guilt and broken relationships. None of us is whole. All of us long for transformation, redemption, healing and peace.
For each of us the invitation is clear. Jesus says, “Come, be baptized with my baptism. Come drink the cup which I offer you.” Your pain and suffering will not be miraculously ended. But I will share it with you. I have already gone before you and can bring you through. With me you will have the grace to carry on. You will not be alone.
No matter what you are going through now, you are not alone. All around are signs of God’s presence. There is the water of baptism to remind you of who you are. There is the holy meal to unite you with God and all the saints. There is healing oil as an outward sign of inward grace and there is the prayer of your companions on the journey whose hands are the hands of Christ upon you.
“She will call upon me and I will answer her;
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue her and bring her to honor.
With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
Proper 24, Year B
Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16
Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45