Months ago, we were making plans for the fall of 2020 here at St. Philip the Deacon. Those plans included, among other things, communicating news about the mission emphasis of our next three-year Capital Appeal—namely, a focus on mental health and wellness.
Our sense was that, as a culture, we have a lot of work to do regarding mental health—improving access to resources for people who need mental health support, strengthening community organizations that are focusing on mental health issues, and also building up our own capacity as a congregation to deepen and expand our ability to respond to mental health needs.
This issue of Inspire—focused on Healing—was originally intended in part to support that strategic emphasis on mental health.
And then, of course, 2020 happened.
In the face of a global pandemic and profound cultural challenges around issues of race, we came to realize that Healing still made sense as a theme for this issue, but for different reasons than originally planned. Rather than serve as a framework for the mental health emphasis of our upcoming capital appeal, we recognized that a focus on healing—on wholeness, on being made well—was important for all of us during this disruptive, challenging and difficult year.
In the fifth chapter of John, Jesus sees a man who has been suffering from an undisclosed condition. Jesus asks him: “Do you want to be healed?” Initially, that may seem like a strange question—of course, we think, the man would want to be healed. But maybe the question isn’t so difficult to understand when we look at another detail in the narrative. We’re told that the man has been suffering with this condition for 38 years. So, for nearly four decades this man’s patterns of behavior and ways of approaching the world had all become deeply connected to his medical condition. Those patterns had become familiar. Comfortable. If he allowed Jesus to heal him, those patterns—his very identity—would be disrupted and changed.
And change, as we all know, is hard.
But change, as it happens, is also necessary for growth.
We never hear from this man again after this encounter in John, but I’d like to believe that, once he was healed, he was not only made well physically, but that he was made whole in other ways, as well. I’d like to believe that when the physical pain and suffering he experienced for 38 years was taken away, he experienced the radical change offered him by Jesus not as the burden of something different, but as the blessing of a different kind of future.
2020 isn’t over yet, and—no doubt—we’ll be healing from its effects for a while to come. And that’s ok. The church has always been a place of healing—of being made well. As we look ahead to the future—a future that may look a bit different than the past as a result of this disruptive year—I pray that, with this man, we can accept Jesus’ invitation not only to be healed, but to be changed.
Grace and Peace,