The Gathering: healing communities
READ: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
If you were a fan of Christian Contemporary Music in the ‘80s and ‘90s, many of the songs that might have been lodged in your head for days were most likely written by Rich Mullins. But while Mullins’s music was indeed a gift, the way he spoke and lived were even more impressive. That’s because Mullins really had the love of Christ in his heart. Jesus said, “But the things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart…” Matt 15.18. One of the things Mullins said that I really love is when he is talking about the church. He was at a party on a Saturday night, and he had to leave early because he had to go to church on Sunday morning. People asked him “Why do you want to go to church with all those hypocrites?” And this was his answer: “I never understood why going to church made you a hypocrite …, because nobody goes to church because they're perfect. If you've got it all together, you don't need to go. You can go jogging with all the other perfect people on Sunday morning. Every time you go to church, you're confessing again to yourself, to your family, to the people you pass on the way there, to the people who will greet you there, that you don't have it all together. And that you need their support. You need their direction. You need some accountability, you need some help.” Ecclesia The Greeks had a great word for Church; it was Ecclesia, from the Latin ekklesia, and it simply once meant a group of people. English language came along, and rather refer to the assembly in Latin or Greek, they saw Church as more of a house where the people assembled, rather than the assembly itself. I promise, I’m not going to talk about the differences today… Instead, we’re going to use the terms synonymously — The church is the assembly of believers. It is us, and we are Christ’s body in this world. And that leads us to the question: What is the purpose of the church? Rich Mullins calls it a place to be helped. Recall If we remember back to last week (and it’s OK if we don’t or weren’t here), we talked about how God fixes us. I said: “Here on earth, … God is changing people’s lives — fixing them, repairing them, saving them — and bringing people together in healed communities.” If we have the idea that coming to church is so that we an bask in the perfection of our good Christian lives, we’re missing the point. It’s a two-part formula: We come together to become healed and strengthened; We go out into the world to help others to be healed and strengthened. The often-quoted Reformed pastor and professor Steve Brown once said being a Christian is “…just one beggar telling another where to find the bread…” There is a profound connection here among our reading today, what Rich Mullins has to say and what Steve Brown has to say. Q1: How do you think others see the church? If we indicate, as Rich Mullins and Steve Brown do, that the church is full of hypocrites and beggars, then we have to acknowledge the truth in that. Community is where you come for healing. Think about it: When we are physically, mentally or emotionally “ill,” we seek help from others. If you’ve ever had a major illness, you know there are whole teams that work toward healing you. And behind that, there are centuries of practice and theory that have been established by the medical community. It’s a community. So when we look at this reading today in Mark’s Gospel about what Jesus is up to, we can begin to not only draw some parallels, but we can see practically what it means to become healed in community. Being healed So what’s happening here? First, we learn that the apostles are fresh off a great high, we’ll call it, from going out in pairs and spreading the Good News of Christ around the regions. So many people have heard of Christ and have been healed by Christ, that a large fervor has grown around them. People are now flocking from everywhere to be healed. And Jesus and the disciples can’t really go anywhere now without throngs of people coming to them. But they need a break; they need some downtime to recharge, so Jesus has them go off for some queit time, then gathers the them onto a boat and sets off for another village. The thing is that the boat ride is much slower than simply walking, and those they left ashore beat Jesus to his destination, and as soon as they get out, they’re met by hoards of people. Verse 56: “Wherever he went—villages, cities, or farming communities—they would place the sick in the marketplaces and beg him to allow them to touch even the hem of his clothing. Everyone who touched him was healed.” The healing What does this show us? We come to Christ for healing. That’s obvious. But I haven’t seen Jesus walking around in the last 2000 or so years here on earth, have you? I haven’t heard of Jesus getting off a boat and being met by throngs of people whom he healed… …I’m sure that would have been on CNN… So now what? What do we do? We follow Christ’s example. We come here. We worship. We pray. We become one with each other. We become one with Christ. We become … the body. Ecclesia, the Church… The body of Christ. Are we perfect as the joggers who don’t need church on Sunday mornings, as Rich Mullins says? Are we so full of ourselves or other stuff that we are no longer beggars for the Bread of Life, as Steve Brown indicates? Anyone here perfect? We come here for that two-part formula: We come together to become healed and strengthened; We go out into the world to help others to be healed and strengthened. The first part is what Christ does for us; The second part is what we do for Christ. And when we do for others, we are doing for Christ. The people who have gathered at the shore waiting to simply touch Jesus’s hem of his robe are coming together in a community seeking healing. All sorts of healing… When we come to Christ together, we are healing as well. It’s why we’re here. But what happened in our reading? There was no CNN. There weren’t newspapers. There was no Facebook, no Internet, no cellphones, nothing. Word of mouth. We call that testimony. “Come and see.” One person wasn’t healed by Christ and simply went his or her way back home to live quielty in that joy. Joy is meant to be shared! It’s always better when joy is celebrated! They shared the stories. The told of the healings. They followed Christ. They came together. They invited others. Hypocrites. Beggars… You see, maybe at Genneseret, they were coming for physical maladies. Maybe. But it wasn’t one and done. They kept coming because Christ healed them in so many ways. And the more they came, the more they understood, and the more different ways they were healed. This was the birth of what we call the Church. Ecclesia: The community! The circle of the healed and the healing ever-widening. Bringing more and more people into God’s love through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. The body We’ve been called to be that Church, that ecclesia, that Body. And so we’re here, today. We’re here Sunday. And we’re here — maybe not in this physical location — but we’re here always as the body of Christ, no matter where we go, 24/7. We are God’s people. We are being healed. And we are called to bring others to that healing shore… to touch that hem. This right here, right now, This is Christ’s hem that we touch. And when we are in our everyday lives, we are called to lead people to that hem. To show them where the bread is. One hypocrite to another. One beggar to another. Imago Dei or imago hominis? The church has an image problem, don’t we? We come across as being self-righteous, dominant, unwavering, intollerant and divided… It’s no wonder the number of Christians is consistantly in decline. Q2: So then why do others see us as hypocrites? Is there any truth to the way Christians are seen in the world? Indeed, Mullins flat-out calls us hypocrites. And Brown says we’re just beggars. Jesus sees the people and says “they need healing.” That means without Christ’s touch, we’re terminal. The blood of Jesus saved us from our terminal condition. God calls us together to be fixed and to fix a broken world. If that’s true — and it is — then what are we doing so wrong that non-believers think we think we have it all together? What are we doing so wrong that we’re seen as deserving of our self-righteousness? See, when Christ comes on the scene, there comes with it an alternative way to live. That way is love. But not love for ourselves, or simply those whom we like or those who are the same as us. It’s love for everyone. Even those who challenge us. Even those who calls us names, like hypocrite, beggar, broken… It’s lovingly understanding that we are all seeking that healing. We don’t all know the way. But when we can come together in Christ’s name, we are actively being healed. And when we show love in all that we do in this world — not just in this space — we are showing what it means to live in a healing community: One in which we’re healed; One in which we are inviting others to be healed. We have to own this: We only become stronger in community, as Christ calls us to. The more people healed in that community, the stronger we all become — together! And that, my friends, is how Christ calls us to change the world. My last question tonight — and it’s for you to take back home with you and think about and pray about — is this: How will you live into your healing?