Wellness Clinic

J. D. Ousley

Sermon—28Oct12

Mk 10

“Wellness Clinic”

 

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

 

Over the summer, New Yorkers found themselves debating Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to ban restaurants from selling large sugared drinks.

In the range of political questions before us this year, that issue was hardly the most critical! People who struggle with their weight because they drink too much soda will likely still struggle with their weight even if they can only buy 16-ounce cups.

On the other hand, because we as a society face mounting healthcare costs, the obesity of any of us can be a financial problem for all of us.

And, while many resent the idea of the government making dietary decisions, we have to admit that it’s a good idea for those concerned with public health to look not only how to cure sick people. They should also try to keep people well.

As it happens, “wellness” is the theme of today’s Gospel Lesson. The story begins with a blind beggar named Bartimaeus sitting by the roadside as Jesus and his disciples walk by. St. Mark writes that, “When heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’”

Bystanders ordered him to be quiet, “but he cried out even more loudly… “ So Jesus stopped walking, and Bartimaeus came up to him and asked, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus replied, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Mark reports that as soon as Jesus said these words, Bartimaeus could see again and he then joined the company of Christ’s followers.

A moving story. And it’s inspiring not just because one blind man regained his sight, but because, in some way, Bartimaeus’ faith healed him.

Commentary on this passage usually focuses on the act of healing the man’s blindness; indeed, it is categorized as one of the healing miracles. Yet it’s also possible to look at the text as a story about faith and wellness.

In the case of Bartimaeus, his new personal ability to see symbolizes the greater vision he has suddenly found as a follower of Jesus. Bartimaeus senses the physical world around him—and he also senses the spiritual. He comprehends that the one who cured his blindness can bring to this world the supernatural power of God. He was given new life in the spirit.

In Christ’s day, people often believed that a person’s disability was caused by her sin. Jesus himself condemned this idea but he recognized that the inner state of one’s soul could still be in need of healing. Sin isn’t good for us! As this miracle story suggests, one’s interior faith is crucial to the process of becoming a whole person.

Now the role of the church in all this is sometimes expressed by saying that, “the Church isn’t a club for the perfect but rather a hospital for sinners.” And I think most of us could accept this teaching in principle. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. We are all in need of forgiveness. As Jesus himself noted in defense of his ministry: those who are sick need a physician.

Yet there’s a problem with the idea of the church as just a place for sick souls. For it’s just not a very appealing prospect to get up on Sunday morning in order to head for a spiritual hospital!

We can understand the need to acknowledge that we’re sinners; no doubt about that. But couldn’t we be more positive? Would it be possible for us, instead, to see the Church as place for wellness?

The word, “healing” implies a restoration to “wholeness.” When a person’s broken arm is healed, then he is able to function at his best—using all his limbs.

Religion itself can be seen as a process by which people are returned to wholeness through their relationship with God. Within the Christian religion, the Church can be viewed as a place where people could become, in Thomas Merton’s words, “the persons God wants us to be.”

And if we follow this train of thought further, we see that coming to the wellness clinic of the church isn’t quite like going to hospital!

To be sure, there are parallels. At both places, disciplines are recommended to help you. But while the hospital obviously helps you by giving you nourishing food and encouraging you to exercise, the way the church helps you toward spiritual wellness isn’t clear cut.

Reduce your intake of calories and exercise more and, barring some disorder, you’ll lose weight. But pray for relief from, say, a worry that is disturbing your soul—and you may be disappointed-you may keep worrying. You may find that you don’t receive inner peace.

The apparent failure of faith in these cases isn’t easily accounted for. I think there are reasons that partially explain this puzzle of our religion—like our need for freedom, and the larger plan of God for the universe—but I can’t detail these explanations right now.

Instead, I would like to continue to highlight the positive value of faith, and I will conclude with a scientific example of how faith sometimes makes people well.

In medical research, the gold standard for the best science is what is known as a “double-blind” test. The scientist begins with two groups of persons. One group receives a new medicine; the other receives a harmless pill or liquid called a “placebo” that looks like the real medicine. Neither the doctors involved in the research nor the patients know who is getting the real drug and who is getting the fake medicine—hence, the name, “double-blind.”

Now scientists have employed this procedure for many years. They value it because it rules out concluding that a patient is doing better because the drug is effective, when in fact the patient is improving simply because she believes that she has taken medicine.

But what is interesting to religious people is this: scientists find that the people in the group who receive the fake pills usually do better than people with their disease who don’t take any medicine at all! This is known as the “placebo effect.”

Now the “placebo effect” has never been explained. It remains one of the mysteries of science. Somehow, if you think that you’re taking a medicine, that belief by itself will help you get better!

Of course researchers will still need to look for new medicines. But the placebo effect reminds us Christians how important attitude is. As the example of Bartimaeus illustrates, wellness is in part a state of mind. While the universe is beyond our control, we can make an effort to focus our thoughts and feelings on the wholeness that God wants for us.

As a result, the Church is not just a place we go in order to get the sin out of our systems. The Church is an oasis of hope—a community of prayer that encourages and inspires the soul.

The Church is a place of healing, a place of wholeness, a wellness clinic.

 

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.


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