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The damaging nature of social media
In the past several years, I have heard a number of people say – myself included – “I’m getting off Facebook. I’m shutting down my Twitter account. I’m done with Instagram, Snap Chat, and every other social media app.” Usually when I press the issue, they offer one of two reasons: ‘I spend too much time playing on my phone’ or computer with it or ‘people are so mean to me/each other and I don’t want to hear it anymore.’ I can agree with both of those but in the past year I have certainly seen the latter reason emerge more predominantly.
I had the intention of finding some of these posts as a part of the sermon but honestly, I can’t see the point in preaching a sermon on healing and reading that kind of vitriol. Just trust me when I tell you that internet trolls make things like hatred, misogyny, profanity, and the like their own personal art forms and seek to attain Rembrantesque levels of proficiency. Having dealt with a few trolls, I can safely say the best method is either blocking them or ignoring them. Author J.K. Rowling responded to an internet troll this week, not for the first time I’m sure. Per an article on the website Refinery29:
The author, who has been vocal about her feelings about the immigration ban on Twitter, has gotten plenty of flak for it by some Donald Trump supporters. One Twitter user was particularly peeved by the British author and declared they would take it out on her work — which, uh, they already bought. (No one said Twitter trolls were the most logical of the bunch.)
In a tweet screencapped by the author — one in which she blocks out the name and account information — the user states:
“glad i caught this article on yahoo. i will now burn your books and movies too.”
It took a mere sentence for Rowling to eviscerate the hater:
“Well, the fumes from the DVDs might be toxic and I’ve still got your money, so by all means borrow my lighter.”
Looking at this, and many other articles and posts, brought the thought to mind, “If there are this many damaged people in the world, lashing out at other people who simply disagree with them, where is the church? What are we as a people attempting to follow the Way of Jesus doing to address the pain, fear, and other unhealthy emotions behind these commentators who are obviously expressing their negativity out of their personal damage?”
What is healing?
Throughout the New Testament, stories abound of healings, particularly in the gospels.
In both the sayings of Jesus and the stories of his healings, therefore, the reader encounters the fundamental conviction that God wills the wholeness of human beings. To construct a Gospel theology of healing, it is on the foundation of this conviction that one must build.
John T. Carroll goes on to assert that “healing” is “a central ministry of the Christian community” in the New Testament. If that is true, and I believe it is, what does that look like for the church now? How do we act as healers in a world that is so polarized by politics and rhetoric? I think our story from Luke this morning may provide for us a path to follow as we recognize certain aspects of the story speaking a truth about being healers in a world that needs healers.
Recognize and identify the need from your perspective and theirs – practice compassion
In the story from Luke seven, Jesus comes upon two different situations with several layers of need to address. In the case of the centurion’s servant, Jesus is dealing with the servant’s need to be healed, the centurion’s need not to lose his servant, and the Jews need to remain on good terms with a gentile, one friendly toward their people. In the case of raising the woman’s son, Jesus is dealing with loss of family, an only son, and the pain of having to bury your own child. Jesus in seeing these situations must assess all these aspects to offer compassion to the people involved.
Offering compassion is the recognizing and identifying the need in the truest sense. Compassion is literally defined as ‘suffering with’ someone but the Greek word used in the New Testament goes even deeper than that. The Greek word means “to feel what someone else feels in the deepest part of their being” or “in the depths of their bowels.” It is the ultimate expression gut feeling but one shared with another human being in their time of pain and heartache. This compassion is born when hope finds itself in the presence of suffering and responds with mercy.
In these two stories from Luke seven, Jesus is acting out of this compassion. In the Message version, the text in the story of the woman’s son is translated as “When Jesus saw her, his heart broke.” In other words, Jesus shared this woman’s feelings of pain and loss with her, his heart breaking as her had broken. In both stories, Jesus sees the need not only as one offering healing but as one in need of healing.
Theologian Michal Beth Dinkler puts it this way:
To be clear, these actions are important and valuable ways of serving others. But when we are able to maintain our distance or stay in a place “above” those we serve, such acts easily become acts of pity, rather than compassion. This is the problem with the idea of serving “those less fortunate”: we are somehow “more” and they are somehow “less.” We still have the power.
Real compassion, as embodied by Jesus, runs counter to our culture’s constant call to succeed, to impress, to be effective. Real compassion is a call to suffer with the powerless. To quote Nouwen again:
‘Compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there. God’s compassion is total, absolute, unconditional, without reservation.’”
If we are to act as healers, we will have to develop our ears to hear not only the words people use but the depth of emotion we hear behind them; we will have to develop our eyes to see not only the pain of the situation but the pain beneath the surface that may not have found its way to the surface; we will have to learn to speak truth and comfort with the love and peace that we ourselves would like to experience, applying the principle of ‘doing to others’ to our words and actions.
Address the issue at hand as it is
Several years ago, Heather and I got the hospital bill after Donovan was born. As I was going through the charges, I noticed something strange, a charge for a femur implant costing an additional four or five thousand dollars. For those of you who are not up on your anatomy, the femur is the large, upper leg bone in the top part of your leg, in fact, the longest bone in your body. Now, for those of you who have given birth you may have felt like you needed a femur transplant after all was said and done. Heather, however, had a caesarian so there was no reason to have needed a prosthetic replacement for her upper leg bone. While the medical staff did their jobs well, accounting and billing needed a bit of work. Specificity is important.
As you might guess, healing requires specificity, particular in that it has to be discriminating about what needs to be healed and focusing on that above other things. In the two stories from the text, we have one person who is in danger of losing his life and one who is already beyond life. It would not make sense for Jesus to give them a new pair of glasses or help them with chronic halitosis or anything other than the maladies they were suffering with. Jesus brought one man back from the brink of death and the other from death itself because that was the nature of their need. It was about addressing the issue as it is not as we might hope it would be.
We need to practice this kind of specificity when it comes to walking with people down the painful stretches of their paths. Advice on how to fix a lawnmower is not useful if the yard is zeroscaped. We need to take the time to know them, their walk, their struggles, their joys, their pains, and work toward healing with them from there. It is in walking with people and encouraging them to be focused on the things that are damaged that people are healed.
A good friend of mine, Doug Lyons, works with a group called Soul Repair. They specialize in dealing with veterans who have encountered what is called ‘Moral Injury’ or damage to their moral system after returning from war. Soul Repair deals with things like suicide, homelessness, unemployment, divorce, depression, and poverty. One of the most powerful aspects of the ministry is the practice of presence. Soldiers coming back from combat are notorious for not wanting to open up and share their pain brought on by their experiences, mostly because they assume if you haven’t been where they have been you would not understand.
The exception is that a soldier will talk to another soldier, especially one who has seen combat. Something about sharing common experience makes us as human beings more open. When it comes to being agents of healing, the practice of presence or ‘being there’ with another person is invaluable. When you practice presence, even and sometimes especially silence, you open the door for the person hurting to see you as a safe place. Consider Job’s friends. They came to him and sat for seven days without saying anything. When they did start talking, Job probably wished they were still silent, but their quiet presence became a sign of security and safety to Job who would eventually have a very long conversation with them about a great many things.
When we practice presence, we give people the opportunity to feel safety and security in a difficult time and the space to explore what healing might look like. Our calling to presence is one of being in the moment with someone, focused on them and their needs, with the intent of helping them seek healing.
Practice makes perfect
To practice the ministry of healing with Jesus is to practice being in the face of suffering. Again, If we are to act as healers, we will have to develop our ears to hear not only the words people use but the depth of emotion we hear behind them; we will have to develop our eyes to see not only the pain of the situation but the pain beneath the surface that may not have found its way to the surface; we will have to learn to speak truth and comfort with the love and peace that we ourselves would like to experience, applying the principle of ‘doing to others’ to our words and actions.
We do this by feeling what someone else feels in the deepest part of their being; taking the time to know them, their walk, their struggles, their joys, their pains, and work toward healing with them; and giving people the opportunity to feel safety and security in a difficult time and the space to explore what healing might look like.
Let us go from here to learn and offer healing to a hurting world. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
 Carroll, John T. “Sickness and Healing in the New Testament Gospels.” Interpretation 49, no. 2 (April 1995): 130-142. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 2, 2017).
 The article quoted is from workingpreacher.org (https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3002). The quote within is by Henri Nouwen, (Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life (Doubleday, 1982), 27.)
 Soul Repair: Recover
ing from Moral Injury after War By Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriela Lettini. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 2012. p.93