Sermon for 1st July 2018 Healing and Forgiveness The Rev Nicholas Whereat
He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ Mark 5:41
The professor of preaching and liturgy writing on one web site I look for ideas didn’t give a commentary on this passage. Instead he told a story. The story was of a mother and her daughter leaving their Central American Country in the hope of finding the woman’s husband in the United States. They hadn’t heard from him in four years. In that four years the local gangs that controlled her town had been demanding food and cooking from this woman. She could cope with that but when several gang members turned up drunk and raped her, she knew she had to leave. Her six year old daughter had come home from school to find her mother on the bed and had to cook for three days until mum recovered enough to get out of bed.
The woman, Maria, paid a man to help them make the dangerous journey to the USA. She sold her house to him as part of the payment. Catching “the Beast”, as they called the train that took people up to the border between Mexico and the USA was scary. Crossing the Colorado River holding onto floaties was terrifying as neither of them could swim. The yelling of the men leading them over and the terrified screams of all those trying to cross soon stopped as the police and border force swooped on them. Maria’s daughter Glory soon started screaming again as she was separated from her mum. Maria started yelling back to her, promising to come for her.
Maria and her daughter ended up in different private jails in different towns. A lady, called Nancy, a pro-bono lawyer started to visit Maria. All she could get out of her at first was “where is my daughter Gloria”. It took Nancy 12 months to find Gloria who was badly undernourished. The doctors could not get her to eat properly. When Nancy turned up and said to little Gloria, I know where your mum is and I will make sure you are able to be with her soon. Gloria jumped up and they took a selfie together so Maria could see her daughter. Nancy told Gloria that she really needed to eat if she wanted to see her mum. The little girl began to eat.
When Maria saw the photo of Nancy and her daughter she cried for an hour. It was like the bleeding in her heart stopped for the first time in 12 months.
Healing for Gloria and her mum came because Nancy reached out and touched their lives. The Little girl in the Gospel came back to life because Jesus reached out and touched her and spoke to her. The woman in the section wedged into the story of the girl was healed because she reached out to touch Jesus. Most of us know that a simple touch can communicate powerful love especially in time of dire crisis when words seem empty. Touch done with gentle love can transform our lives.
In the story of the Central American illegal migrants Nancy doesn’t just touch them physically but she works to find little Gloria. Her love runs deep. Maria and the little girl, Gloria, met Jesus in a new way in Nancy, through her love, her hugs and her sheer determination to keep coming week after week and to find Maria’s daughter.
Healing is as much about love as it is about the medication or the treatments we receive. Another dimension to healing is forgiveness. When we receive forgiveness or forgive someone else it creates the capacity in us for really deep healing. I suspect that forgiving another person is perhaps the biggest catalyst for healing in us.
Our society seems to regard retribution as the thing that creates justice. As a consequence our prisons are overflowing. It is normal in our society to seek retribution, to punish rather than to work towards forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. And most Christians operate out of that same model. As far as I can tell many people in the Church have never begun to appreciate the Christian Gospel which has forgiveness and grace at it very core. We pray the Lord’s Prayer each week; forgive me for my sins as I forgive those who sin against me. But it is like we rule a line through that last part; “as I forgive those who sin against me.
What are the steps towards forgiveness? I shall only name a few to get us started. The first and probably the most important step is to acknowledge the action itself. He had no right to yell at me, to speak to my children like that, to ignore me: whatever the action was that hurt me or someone I love. It is probably easier when we think about forgiveness to start with hurts at the lower end of the scale. If someone murdered someone you love, or abused you, that will require more than three steps and you will probably need help to go through the steps of forgiveness.
Having acknowledged that those words or that action was completely inappropriate we can begin to move to the next step. The second step is to ask what was happening in me that day that I responded the way I did, Leaving me with ongoing anger. I remember once being spat on as I walked down the street in Brisbane. I turned and asked him if he was OK? I guess I was in a good space mentally at that moment. I wonder how I would have responded if I’d had an argument with Gwenn that morning or something had gone badly wrong at work. I guess the fact that I was more surprised than insulted helped. But when we remember back to something that made us angry and we know we are still angry, what created that response in us. Of course you may not remember because the “Incident” became the big thing. And it may well be that whenever someone yells at us we respond in a certain way. The question would be, why do I always respond in that way? The other person still had no right to yell at me or spit on me or whatever, never-the-less exploring why I respond as I do changes the situation.
The third step is to wonder what is happening for the other person that caused them to act the way they did. Remember we can only wonder, we can never know. As soon as we think we know there is a good chance we are wrong. As I walked away from the fellow who spat on me in Brisbane I realised I was wearing my clerical collar. If I’d had my wits about me I could have said, I wonder if you are angry because of something that happened to you in the Church. I will never know what was happening to him. People that we see regularly at Church or in our family, we might make the opportunity to ask them, what was happening that you yelled at me or glared at me.
This is a difficult step in forgiveness. If the thing happened ten years ago they may not even remember the event that you have been holding onto. They may remember it vividly and they might say, my husband and I had been trying for years to have a baby and that day I had come back from the doctor after having another miscarriage. Your children were behaving badly and you didn’t seem to care so I lashed out. If you are able to listen well you may discover they are still grieving for the children that never survived who would be much the same age as yours. The chances are they will not want to talk to you about their deep pain so they will say they can’t remember. Another possibility is that they learnt as a child to push back when they were pushed so even the slighted push causes them to shove back. The reality is we never know unless we ask, and even then we may never discover the deeper layers that cause those actions.
These are just the first three steps toward forgiveness. Big things require more steps and a certain determination to keep moving. The Holy Spirit will help us on this journey if we invite the Holy Spirit in. It is often good to get help from someone with training. The final step will be to see the other person through Jesus’ eyes and to be able to love them as Jesus does. But that is a fair way down the track.
In the Gospel story Jesus reached out with love and brought healing, new life to the little girl. In the story of the Central American migrants the pro-bono lawyer reached out to touch the little girl with news of her mum. Ironically when we reach out with love to touch another person with forgiveness we experience emotional, physical and spiritual healing. Healing comes from God, we are called to be instruments of that grace.