In the name of the one holy and undivided Trinity. Amen.
I was sorely tempted during this pandemic to get myself a pandemic dog.
We had had a wonderful family dog who died about a dozen years ago. And I remember so well how good it was just to be sitting with her, to have her at your feet while you were reading, to have her jump up onto the couch—which wasn’t really allowed, but which we all permitted anyway—to have her sit next to you, and lean into you. To feel the comfort of the warmth of her body against yours.
And she had a knack for knowing when you especially needed to be comforted. And I really missed that and I thought about it, but in the end, I didn’t do it. I was looking ahead to a time when we might not be in isolation, and I wanted the freedom to be able to come and go without worrying about the dog. And I remember hearing someone say once—and this sounds terrible, but there’s some truth to it—that true freedom begins when the kids leave home and the dog dies.
But I at least was fortunate to have my family around me, my husband, my son and his wife, and my two little granddaughters. They were with us for weeks and months at a time. So that time together was really one of the blessings of the pandemic for me, to be close to them, to be in their presence, but not everyone was so lucky.
And I’ve been reading a couple of newspaper articles about how cow cuddling was becoming really popular. Apparently you can go to a farm, a special farm, and either hug them or sit down and they’ll put their heads in your lap. And people say that it feels really good, sort of I guess, like sitting with the dog, and the cows apparently like it also. So the going rate for this seems to be about $75 an hour, which seems steep, but when you compare it to everything involved in having your own cow, it seems like a bargain.
The point of this is, we are made for touch. We’re made for presence. We’re hardwired to want to be close to each other in that way. Studies have shown that when we are touched, our feel-good hormones go up. We experience a feeling of peace and happiness. And there was a real thing that people worried about during the pandemic called touch deprivation, where people who were really isolated experienced anxiety and depression because of that the lack of touch. And some of the recommendations for dealing with this were just to see otherpeople on Zoom, or even to do virtual exercise classes. It’s not the same, but it’s something. Or to spend time with pets if you have them.
So given this natural inclination to want to be touched, to want to be in human presence, it shouldn’t be at all surprising that Jesus’ ministry of healing is all about presence and touch. He goes to where people are. He touches them. He lets them touch him. They want to touch him. They want to touch even the fringe of his cloak, and that touch is healing to them.
They want to be wherever he is, so much so, that when he gets in the boat and he tries to take his disciples away, they see where the boat is going and they get there first. And, by the way, that’s sort of a big clue there with the boat. Whenever in Mark we see Jesus and the disciples going around in the boat, it’s a clue that this is about the church. The boat is the church. And what we’re supposed to take from these stories about the boat is we see Jesus showing us how to be the church, how to be that healing presence in the world.
We come here to refresh ourselves on Sunday mornings, but this isn’t where we’re supposed to stay, leaving the door open and expecting people to find their way to us and come in and experience that healing presence. We’re meant, like Jesus, to go out, to be God’s healing presence in the world, to touch the world in all the ways that it needs healing.
Which has been really hard to do during pandemic. But I think that coming out of isolation now is a chance for us to reboot, to think about how we want to be that healing presence to the world. Because God knows, there is so much in this world that needs healing, so much sin and brokenness that needs healing. Our society itself needs healing. We need healing for justice. People need healing and not just for physical ailments, but their hearts, their souls need healing.
We need to be healed of the sin that says we only really need to focus on ourselves. We need to be healed, so many of us, of feeling unloved and unworthy, of feeling that our lives have no real deep meaning, of trying to replace true healing, true meaning, with so many substitutes. With addictions, and not just fto ood and drugs and alcohol, but with the addiction to consumerism, mistaking material things for that which matters, trying to fill our lives with things to heal that empty place inside of us.
We’re meant to be out there. And we’re meant to be healers of all these things.
Some of you might’ve heard of a woman named Sara Miles. She’s a woman who experienced a conversion in midlife and went from being a non-believer to being a member of an Episcopal church in San Francisco, St. Gregory of Nyssa. It’s very well known. It’s a very active and innovative church. And after a while, she became the head of the pastoral care ministry.
And she’s written a couple of books. And I brought one with me, it’s called Jesus Freak. And she makes a very startling claim in this book. She claims that she and the members of her team can heal people through prayer. Now, she immediately makes the distinction between healing and cure. She doesn’t say that they can cure people, but she says that through prayer and presence, they can heal people, through relationship, through being with people, through praying with them, and for them.
I think we’re meant to be healers in just that way, that the church is meant to be a healing presence, not through dogs and cows, but through the presence of our very selves reflecting God’s love to the world.
There is a passage in here, which I found so powerful that I want to read it in conclusion. Sara Miles says,
Jesus calls his disciples, giving us authority to heal and sending us out. … He doesn’t show us how to make a blind man see, dry every tear, or even drive out all kinds of demons. But he shows us how to enter into a way of life in which the broken and sick pieces are held in love and given meaning, in which strangers literally touch each other and, doing so, make a community spacious enough for everyone, in which the deepest desires of our hearts draw us to health. [i]
May we be that kind of healing presence to the world.
Preached at Trinity Episcopal Church, Buckingham, PA.
[i] Sara Miles, Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead, 2012. 105.