Sermon – November 24, 1999 - Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock – all rights reserved
Healing and Thanksgiving
Public Healing Service
Open my lips, O lord, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise. Amen.
A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole, which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master's house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master's house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. "I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you."
"Why?" asked the bearer? "What are you ashamed of?"
"I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master's house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts," the pot said.
The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, "As we return to the master's house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path."
Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.
The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot's side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master's table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house." (source obscure)
God calls us not as we should be but as we are. Each of us has our own unique flaws. We're all cracked pots. If we will allow it, the Lord will use our flaws to bring beauty and grace in service of God and humanity. In God's great economy, nothing goes to waste.
So when you hear God calling you to the tasks He has appointed for you, don't be afraid of your flaws. Acknowledge them, and allow God to take advantage of them, and you, too, can be the cause of beauty in His pathway. Go out boldly, knowing that in our weaknesses, we find His strength. Remember that God doesn't always call the qualified, but He always qualifies the called.
During the few-recorded years of Jesus Christ's earthly ministry in the Gospels, we are reminded again and again of the miraculous cures available through His presence alone. And, it is recorded that He gave his Apostles and Disciples the gift of healing. Many early saints, like Saints Cosmas & Damien or Panteleimon, with the gifts of healing and comfort were designated as "unmercenary" that is "not mercenary". I had to look up mercenary, because images of Rambo-like movie characters were all that came to my mind. Mercenary comes from the French - merces (according to Webster) which is translated "wages" - a mercenary is one who serves only for wages (like soldiers for hire). Those early saints are referred to as the healing and wonder-working saints who serve with no want of wages or rather “unmercenaries.” That is a significant insight into the work of healing ministry.
By-The-Way - Mercy has the same root - merces - and Webster literates it as "price paid" - so, "Lord, have mercy" could also be understood as "Lord, pay the price for us." Well, I don't know how much I can further I can push this, but here again is insight into the work of healing - there is a difference between mercy and grace - grace is like getting a birthday gift - getting something that wasn't deserved. Mercy on the other hand is not getting what we do deserve. More on that issue another time.
Do you think that the Creator of everything that exists, the Knower of all things and the One with infinite power and might care about our distinction between a small little itty-bitty miracle and the big gigantic large ones that get all the publicity? Besides our belief that bigger is better, the busy God only has time for the really big things, what is the difference between a big miracle and a small miracle? If God can do the big ones, why wouldn't He take care of the little ones? We are like the child who keeps complaining to our father, "hurry up and fix my toy - you said you would!" The father says, "I will as soon as you let go of it." Often the thing that stands in the way of our healing is us. I was also told that God’s timing can be slow, but it is always perfect since He has all the time.
Three main points about healing ministry so far:
1. There is grace and mercy afforded us. God's love permeates the very air that we breathe. Perhaps we are not breathing.
2. God doesn't know a difference between a big miracle and a small one. I should also mention God’s miracles are not for sale, by currency or by trade.
3. God calls us not as we should be but as we are. We all have flaws that may be irritating and disappointing, but God will make use of them as well if we let Him. But even the most stubborn of these can be cured, if needed and desired.
There is a story about an irascible old monk who constantly corrected the other monks on the smallest of matters and would get full of rage at the drop of a hat. A young monk was assigned to him for work. The older monk did everything he could to control his temper around this innocent young man. He went into the chapel and after hours of asking for this awful anger to be removed, he saw a light stream from the Icon of Christ and he knew he was cured of the affliction. He ran out of the chapel to find someone to tell the wonderful news. A bumbling old monk, the cook, ran right into him and jabbed him with a walking stick. The cook winced ready for the expected tirade. Instead, the old monk kissed him and asked where his student was. As he walked over to where the young monks where talking, he heard one make a comment that could be heretical. He started right in one the youngsters, correcting him with great diligence. The student monk interjected some weak point in the other's defense. At that moment the old monk flew into a rage. In the midst of his rampage, he noticed that the anger that was so mercifully removed was back in full force. With tears in his eyes, he ran back into the chapel and fell down and asked, "God, why didn't you remove my affliction? I thought you healed me." God responded, "I did heal you and I allowed every circumstance for you to prove to yourself it was indeed gone. It is you that took the opportunity to take it back."
Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, in his great book Beginning to Pray, make the point that we begin to truly pray when acknowledge the distance between us and God. If God is everywhere all the time, it is only in our consciousness that we imagine that we are separate. In contrast, gratitude to God moves us ever closer to Him. On retreats, I have everyone go on a "gratitude walk" Thank you God for... Before long, everyone is smiling and giggling. I bring this seeming contrast of attitudes to your attention as keys for the teachings in the gospel lesson and the stories I have told. When we realize the pain and suffering of being separate from God because of our self-will and the host of other sins, we truly pray, "Lord, have mercy." When we move toward a deeper gratitude to God, we begin acknowledge our completeness and our temporal connection to the universe. We find we belong, we fit, and we don't have to hold tight so the world doesn't fall apart. Being thankful to our Creator relieves us of the burden of failing at God's job description. We don't have to be anything other than what we truly are. We can approach God as a "cracked pot" or "an irascible angry old monk" or "a leper." We can approach God with whatever pain or suffering or defect or shortcoming.
Everyone is welcomed to receive the anointing offered here this evening. You will need to come forward to the rail. That's what partaking of the Christian life is for me. It is an approach to the Most High God with respect and honor, giving thanks for the unique and unqualified blessings grace in my life and asking for mercy for the same sins that separate me and all of us from the God that is every where present and fills all things. Christ is recorded as saying many times to those that were recipients of healing - "Thy faith hath made thee whole." It is a coming into wholeness, an alignment perhaps (not unlike a front end alignment so that my car won't keep tugging to the right).
There two more points about healing ministry:
4. We humans reach out and pray to God when there is a gap. A gap is a lack of wholeness. Healing is being made whole through Christ.
5. Finding gratitude in everything around us reminds us God calls us not as we should be but as we are.
Father Alexander Schmemann was an acclaimed Orthodox theologian and one of the founders of St. Vladimir's Seminary. The month before he passed on in 1983, he wrote a short peace that he read on that Thanksgiving liturgy:
Thank You, O Lord!
Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy...
Thank You, O Lord, for having helped us to overcome all difficulties, tensions, passions, temptations and restored peace, mutual love and joy in sharing the communion of the Holy Spirit.
Thank you, O Lord, for the sufferings You bestowed upon us, for they are purifying us from selfishness and reminding us of the "one thing needed:" Your eternal Kingdom.
Thank you, O Lord, for having given us this country where we are free to worship You.
Thank you, O Lord, for our families: husbands, wives and especially, children who teach us how to celebrate Your Holy Name in joy, movement and holy noise.
Thank you, O Lord, for everyone and for everything.
Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your deed, and no word is sufficient to celebrate Your miracles.