57:14-21 "And I will heal them"
And it will be
said: "Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of
the way of my people."
For this is
what the high and lofty One says--he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
"I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and
lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of
the contrite. I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry, for then
the spirit of the people would grow faint before me--the breath of the people
whom I have created.
angered by their sinful greed; I punished them, and hid my face in anger, yet
they kept on in their willful ways. I have seen their ways, but I will heal
them; I will guide them and restore comfort to them, creating praise on the
lips of the mourners in Israel. Peace, peace, to those far and near,"
says the Lord. "And I will heal them."
But the wicked
are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud.
"There is no peace," says my God, "for the wicked."
Mark 6:1-13 Authority over evil spirits
there and went to his home town, accompanied by his disciples. When the
Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were
this man get these things?" they asked. "What is this wisdom that
has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter?
Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon?
Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offence at him.
Jesus said to
them, "Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house is
a prophet without honor." He could not do any miracles there, except lay
his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack
of faith. Then Jesus went round teaching from village to village. Calling the
Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over
These were his
instructions: "Take nothing for the journey except a staff--no bread, no
bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you
enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not
welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as
a testimony against them."
They went out
and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons, and
anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
Divine Providence #281.2 Our evils must be seen to be healed
From the time
of our birth, we are caught up in many different evil things. These evils are
in our motivation--and we love whatever is in our motivation. For we love
whatever we want from our inner self, and we want whatever we love. The love
in our motivation flows into the understanding, which is where we feel its
pleasures. From there it enters into our thoughts and also into our
If we were not
allowed to think according to the love in our motivation (which is planted in
us by inheritance), that love would remain shut in, and we would never see it.
Evil loves that we do not see are like an enemy lying in ambush, like matter
in an ulcer, like poison in the blood, and like corruption in our chest which,
if they are kept shut in, will kill us. But when we are allowed to think the
evil things of our life's love even to the point of intending to do them, they
are healed by spiritual means just as diseases are healed by physical means.
out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons, and
anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (Mark 6:12, 13)
Last week, as
we looked at the story of Jesus healing a demon-possessed man, we confronted
the issue of "mental illness," as it is called in our society.
Instead of treating this as a separate issue from those who are not considered
"mentally ill," we put it on a continuum with the inner struggles
all of us face against the darker and more difficult parts of our personality.
We believe that the Bible is the story of the spiritual lives of every one of
us. And the inclusion of a story about a demon-possessed man tells us that we
each face our own demons, and need the Lord's help in casting those demons
At the end of
last week's sermon, I left you with the thought that in the same way the
demon-possessed man had to approach and worship Jesus in order to be restored
to health and sanity, our mental, emotional, and spiritual healing begins when
we approach the Lord Jesus and place our lives in the Lord's care and keeping.
reading for today comes shortly after last week's story. In contrast to the
demon-possessed man who lived across the Jordan river in foreign territory,
the people of Jesus' home town of Nazareth did not accept him. In fact, they
took offense at this local boy presuming to teach them in their synagogue.
Because of their lack of faith, we are told, "He could not do any
miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them."
Though it is
set two thousand years ago, this is really talking about us--about
those of us who consider ourselves Christian. And it is especially talking
about those of us who "grew up" with the Lord in our lives--whether
that means we attended a Christian church from our childhood or whether we
later "grew up" spiritually in a Christian congregation.
As the old
saying goes, "familiarity breeds contempt." Last week I made some
big claims about how the Lord can come into our lives and heal us of all
manner of mental, emotional, and spiritual sicknesses. None of that will
happen if we have grown so used to Jesus and Christianity that, like the
people of Jesus' home town, we don't accept the divine, personal power that
the Lord has both to teach us and to heal us.
Do we believe
that the Lord God has the greatest and most effective power to heal us? Or do
we believe, when push comes to shove, that human means--such as counselors,
psychotherapists, and the power of positive thinking--hold the keys to our
mental and spiritual wellbeing? Do we think that going to church can make us a
little better and a little nicer, but when it comes to the really tough
issues, it's time to call in the experts? Or do we accept the truly radical
teaching of the Gospels that the Lord Jesus is our Physician and Healer?
I am not
suggesting that anyone who wants or needs counseling and therapy should not
take advantage of these tools for mental and emotional wellbeing. We are meant
to help and rely upon one another as well. But the true and greatest source of
healing is among us and within us all the time; and we make the same mistake
that the residents of Nazareth did if we do not accept that divine source. As
I said last week, I do not believe there can be any true and deep healing
unless we consciously bring the Lord into our lives.
There are many
reasons why this is so. For now, I would like to focus on just one of them.
One of the perennial problems of counseling and therapy is that there is often
not a clearly defined and effective goal. Is the goal to help clients fit in
with the existing society? If so, what if the existing society is out of
whack? And how do therapists decide which part of a widely varying
culture to "normalize" clients to? Is the goal to help clients to
accept themselves as they are? If so, what if there are aspects of the
clients' personalities that really need to change? Is there some objective
moral or ethical standard that the therapist is attempting to bring clients'
lives into harmony with? If so, where do we get those moral and ethical
standards, and who decides which standards are valid and worth following?
What it all
boils down to is that as long as we rely on humans and human society to
provide us with our norms and our goals, we will always be building on
shifting sands. We humans are a changeable lot. We are a mixture of saint and
sinner, both individually and collectively. And sometimes it is awfully hard
to sort out which part is which.
God provides us
with a way out of this confusion. The Lord, we are told in the Bible, is the
rock upon which our lives must be built. And unlike shifting, changing human
beings, the Lord God is eternal and unchanging. When we bring the Lord into
our lives, we have a true, higher standard that we can always be moving toward
as our goal. The Lord gives a direction and purpose to our healing process and
to our entire life that we cannot get from any other source. The Lord provides
the standard of perfection toward which we can aspire.
of perfection has a specific "personality" that is extremely helpful
to us as we try to figure out what direction we need to go in order to move
from "mental illness" to spiritual health. If we can understand and feel
the nature of God, and see where we are not in harmony with God's nature, we
can begin our healing journey. Let's look at the most important aspect of the
Divine personality, and see what it means for our healing process.
The final verse
of our Gospel reading mentions that after Jesus had sent his twelve disciples
out, they "anointed many sick people with oil and healed them." In
those days, oil was what kept the lamps burning, both in the Temple and in
people's homes at night. The flame of the lamps gave both warmth and light.
Spiritually speaking, the "oil" that fuels our hearts and minds is
nothing but the Lord's love in us. And it is when we are inwardly anointed
with the "oil" of the Lord's love that we find healing.
are always talking about God's love. "God's love this, God's love
that!" After a while, it may seem more like a mantra than a practical,
real life power. So let's get specific. Swedenborg writes:
of love is not loving ourselves, but loving others and being united with
them through love. The essence of love is also being loved by others. This
is how the union takes place. . . . Love consists of having
what belongs to us belong to others. Feeling another person's joy as joy in
ourselves--that is what it means to love." (Divine Love and Wisdom
In other words,
real love--God's love--is getting outside of ourselves and making
others happy. Real love is not inward-looking, but outward looking; not
ingrown, but outgoing.
I am going to
go out on a limb and state perhaps a little too categorically that in all
"mental illness" and personal angst there is an element of
inward-looking self-absorption. When we are caught in the throes of
depression, or locked in some compulsive behavior, or spinning out of control
mentally or emotionally, we tend to be pretty well wrapped up in our own
feelings, our own thoughts, our own behaviors. While other people certainly do
figure into the picture, the focal point of our picture tends to be
ourselves and our own problems.
I do not say
this to pass any judgments. Many people balk at the church's teaching that we
all start out involved in evil and selfishness. "How could you say that
about a sweet, innocent little baby?" Yes, the innocence of babies is
their saving grace--and Swedenborg tells us that the highest angels are
presence in that innocence. But let's be honest. Babies are basically wrapped
up in themselves, and they really don't think about anyone else's comfort.
This is where
we all start out: wrapped up in ourselves. Even as adults, before we turn our
lives over to the Lord and begin consciously working to re-form ourselves
spiritually in the Lord's image and likeness, we start out thinking mostly
about how we can enjoy a good life with all its pleasures and perks. I believe
that the Bible and Swedenborg both are simply being realistic in describing
where we come from.
So it is not a
matter of shame that we start out all wrapped up in ourselves. It is simply
the way we are wired at first. Our task here on earth is to allow the Lord to
come in and rewire us so that instead of thinking of ourselves first, we think
of the Lord and other people first. In other words, we need to be rewired to
feel and express genuine love for one another--the kind of love that the Lord
has for us.
The Bible calls
this rewiring "repentance." The first thing the twelve disciples did
when they were sent out was to "preach that people should repent."
Repentance is another word people often have trouble with. Doesn't this mean
we are bad? Well . . . yes. Which one of us doesn't have
parts of ourselves that we are not proud of? That hurt ourselves and the
people around us? That really ought to change? Let's call a spade a spade. If
it hurts people, it is bad. If it hurts people, it is evil. And that
evil comes from our thoughts and feelings.
the process by which we stop feeling, thinking, and doing things that hurt.
The Greek word for "repentance" simply means "changing our
mind." Repentance is a process of inner change by which we leave behind
our old, self-limiting, destructive attitudes and behaviors and begin to live
in a new way. When we realize that we're mostly wrapped up in our own pain and
pleasure, and that we are very far away from having the love of God that is
positive and outgoing, we need the life-changing power of repentance.
begins with learning about God. What is God's love like? What is God's truth?
How does it apply to us? What would we be like if we were living the life God
created us to live? If we were fully the person God created us to be?
It moves to
taking an honest look at ourselves to identify specific areas where we fall
short. In twelve step programs, this is the step of making "a searching
and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." When we have discovered one
or two things that we can work on, we not only admit to them honestly, but we
take personal responsibility for them. We then commit ourselves to
changing them, recognizing that on our own, we cannot do it, but with God's
help, and with the help of others who are on a spiritual path, we can. And so,
in prayer to God and in mutual support, we begin living in a different way.
The Lord can
heal us only if we are willing to face our demons in this head-on, conscious,
and committed way. And I would like to leave you with one very practical way
to not only face our demons, but cast them out and replace them with God's
For all of us,
but especially in the case of "mental illness," one of the most
powerful tools for healing is to physically get out and do something for
someone else. Perhaps we will not be able to do very much at first. But think
about it. The nature of love is to love others, to serve them, to give them
happiness, and to feel their joy as joy in ourselves.
This is exactly
what we are lacking when we're all wrapped up in our own problems, whether
those problems are severe and debilitating or mild and merely annoying. The
greatest antidote to our natural self-absorption is to get out there and do
something for someone! It may be through taking a new attitude toward our job:
doing our job cheerfully with a commitment to serving others instead of just
doing it to get a paycheck. It may be through volunteering in some kind of
community service. It may be simply through thinking of ways to make our
family members, friends, and neighbors happy by doing things for them.
seems too simple to make a difference. Yet there are powerful healing benefits
in simply getting out there and doing something useful for others. As we focus
our minds outside of ourselves--even if it is a struggle at first--we soon
find healing connections with others. We enter into their joys and struggles,
and this makes our own struggles seem smaller. At the same time, we increase
our joy because we are feeling the joy of others in a way we never did before.
personal pains and struggles that had been the focal point of our lives will
move aside, and our life will be transformed almost without our realizing it.
When this happens, we will have experienced the healing power of God's love in
Artwork: In His Constant Care
is courtesy of Greg Olsen and is
used with his permission.
Music: Heart to Heart
© 2001 Bruce DeBoer
and Color Scroll Bar
Scripts Courtesy of
Flower Courtesy of