Looking for Healing

Preached at Church of the Pilgrims (PCUSA) - July 19, 2015

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 (CEB, [ ] are added for context)

The apostles returned to Jesus [from their missionary journeys]
     and told him everything they had done and taught.

Many people were coming and going,
     so there was no time to eat.

He said to the apostles,
     “Come by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.”
They departed in a boat by themselves for a deserted place.

Many people saw them leaving and recognized them,
     so they ran ahead from all the cities and arrived before them. 
When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd,
     he had compassion on them
          because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
     Then he began to teach them many things.

[A while later…]

When Jesus and his disciples had crossed the lake [again],
     they landed at Gennesaret,
     anchored the boat, 
     and came ashore.

People immediately recognized Jesus
     and ran around that whole region
          bringing sick people on their mats
          to wherever they heard he was. 

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.

We often go looking for healing on our own, in a secluded place, but sometimes the only place we can find the healing we need is in the crowd of community.

There are many different kinds of healing - physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational.  In today’s story, I think it is both emotional and physical healing that Jesus tries to offer the apostles after their journeys.  But of course, Jesus is interrupted.  He and the disciples go looking for solitude and are instead greeted by crowds seeking help.  Even in the midst of this text (why the lectionary chooses these select verses, I don’t know) Jesus feeds a multitude of 5,000 men with only a few loaves and fishes.

At any rate, today I would like to share with you a story of when I went looking for healing.

Our Wild Goose backdrop on the Spirituality Tent.

A week and a half ago, I attended the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC.  Some compare this progressive Christian gathering to Woodstock, but really its more like an ecumenical NEXT Church conference gone camping. The Wild Goose is a celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit that evokes unpredictability, beauty, and grace.  Faith leaders in justice, spirituality, art, and music come and meet with others with a passion for God’s kingdom.

It’s an opportunity to meet people outside our own faith traditions from all over the country and world who are seeking ways to bring peace on earth as it is in heaven. I was honored to have the opportunity to go early and help setup the Spirituality tents - setting the atmosphere and space for various speakers and musicians. The team and I created a goose out of wire and fabric for a back drop, a wailing wall, and a “Post-Secret” style confession board for the various venue tents.

This was my second festival - and I went into it with great expectations. There’s the cliche of mountain top experiences - and when you’re so far into the mountains there is little cell phone reception - it fits the definition of mountain top.

The days leading up to the festival were hectic as I packed supplies for camping and for decor, picked up a rental van to transport our big pieces down, and drove 8 hours alone.  It all felt very rush, rush, rush, only to wait as I adjusted to goose time.

But I soon found, that I could not let go of the tasks that brought me to the festival. It seemed like there were lots of details to cover, miscommunication led to frustration, and I just could not relax and settle in to the spirit of the festival.  I also began to feel out of place - it seemed like everyone else had a precise ministry context to share about or to apply what they were learning - yet I was in limbo, in between graduation and my next of an internship. 

By the second morning, I knew if something didn’t change - I wouldn’t have a mountain top experience! and I knew that what needed to change was my attitude.

A tent with a view! Looking out on the French Broad River in Hot Springs, NC.

A tent with a view! Looking out on the French Broad River in Hot Springs, NC.

I’m an introvert and pretty mellow person, so my first thought was to sit by the river and practice some breathing exercises to ground myself - but that didn’t work.  Later that morning, I remembered that the festival offers free Spiritual Direction, so I signed up and was able to get a spot 2 hours later.

If you’re not familiar, spiritual direction is like counseling for you and God. The director sits in silence with you, listens, and then offers questions and insights into what you’ve shared, attempting to help you see God at work in your life or to be more open to God’s presence.

I met with Randy, a prison chaplain.  It was great. Randy listened. He named those things that were in between the lines, that I couldn’t say.  He asked about my frustration at the festival and if it was more about my life at large, outside of the festival.  Um, yes.

I’ll save you the details, but after 30 min - I felt like this great weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Someone had heard me. Maybe it was as simple as needing to vent, but I think it was more - that someone in this place - in two camping chairs next to the river - saw and heard me. My friends had tried to listen, but they had their own responsibilities to deal with. So in this moment, I had someone’s undivided attention.  That feels pretty selfish to say that is what I needed to find a kind of healing, but it’s very much what I want to offer others in pastoral care.

And I believe it’s what Jesus was trying to offer the disciples in today’s story.  of course he kept being interrupted.  that time in solitude was disrupted by crowds again and again.  Jesus doesn’t ignore them - but has gut wrenching compassion on the crowds and teaches them and heals them.

Throughout the rest of the festival, I too was interrupted and found unexpected healing in the crowds: 

  • I witnessed Tony Campolo, an evangelical pastor, apologize to the LGBTQ community for his previous condemnation and his teachings of celibacy, and share about his own rejection from those in his tradition. He described how he no longer thinks you have to get your vertical relationship with God right before getting your horizontal relationships with others right - he now sees them as one in the same. In loving others, we love God. How can we not love our LGBTQ brothers and sisters? His apology helped to bring healing to those in the crowd. 
  • I heard Bree Newsome, the activist who removed the confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol, share about the ten people who helped prepare the way to get her up that pole. Bringing down the flag was a step towards healing from the legacy of white power.
  • I met Katie, who works with Burmese refugees in Denver, and who hopes to become fluent in burmese and get a counseling degree so that she can offer refugees counseling in their native tongue to bring them healing after trauma.
  • I learned about Brian McLaren’s new initiative to gather faith leaders around climate change to heal our planet.
  • I met a young woman who went from nursery aid to Sunday school director in a matter of months, looking for spiritual formation ideas to best serve her community’s kids, hoping to share stories of healing with her community.
  • I heard stories of black leaders calling for time to grieve and lament, rather than moving to forgiveness to soon, looking for healing in those cries of lament.
  • And instead of feeling out of place because of my lack of a church job, I could celebrate God’s work with and through these people and they seek healing.
  • I also sat in the French Broad River for a while.  I woke up to the gorgeous view of that river outside of my tent every morning.  I listened to the cicadas and the birds.  I noticed the dirt and sand piling up on my feet. I was finally able to settle in, be present, on the mountain top.

Each of these moments came through times of community. Many people worked together to stand up and share their voice, to take an action, and to share the spirit with others.


Standing in the crowds waiting to order food, I was reminded of Jesus feeding the multitudes. In a recent podcast from On Being with Krista Tippett, I heard Sister Simone Campbell share her interpretation of this feeding miracle and a poem she wrote about it.  In her own words (please forgive the gender stereotypes):

And remember the story in Matthew — in the Gospel, and they're out in the countryside, and the Apostles say, “Send them back to town, they're going to get grumpy.” And Jesus says, “Feed them yourselves.” And the Apostles say, “we don't have it.” Well, at the end of Matthew's account, he says, “5,000 men were fed to say nothing of the women and children.”

Well, now that made me mad. So I meditated about that. As you can tell, I have an odd spiritual life. So I thought about it, and I realized they only counted the ones who thought it was a miracle. Because the women had brought food from home. They shared it.

But the guys — I mean, don't you have this — don't you experience this all the time? Guys will show up. There’s food on the table. “Wow, food. What a miracle. Isn’t that great? It was like elves produced it.”

Here’s the poem “Loaves and Fish:”

“I always joked that the miracle of
loaves and fish was sharing,
The women always knew this.
But in this moment of need and notoriety,
I ache, tremble, almost weep at
folks so hungry, malnourished, faced
with spiritual famine of epic proportions.

My heart aches with their need.
Apostle-like, I whine, what are we
among so many?
The consistent 2,000-year-old ever-new
response is this:
Blessed and broken, you are enough.
I savor the blessed, cower at the broken, and
pray to be enough.”

What if she’s right, and this miracle was produced through the simple act of sharing?  What can we share with our neighbors today that will bring them healing?

We come back from these mountain top experiences and return to the humdrum of everyday life, with laundry, and grocery shopping, and work.  Perhaps the life we left is the same, but we aren’t. 

Somehow in that crowd gathered in those woods, with the nearby sound of the river, I found healing.  I began to see with new eyes. I found new stories to share.  More purpose to stand on.  More joy in my heart to share.  My hope is that God can use those changes in me to bring healing to another.

So, as you think about this summer, where have you found healing? How did it change you?  Or, if you haven’t experienced healing lately, where might you look for it in the weeks ahead?

And finally, what is God calling you to share or to offer, that you might bring healing to another?