Our Story of Redemption
I have never been particularly focused on celebrities. But I can remember a time when I got totally caught up in celebrity hype. When I was living in New York city at the end of the 1980s, a friend of mine spotted Arnold Schwarzenegger walking down the street. At the time, Arnold was about the most popular movie star there was, and people rushed to see him. I dashed around the block so that I could catch my own glimpse of the big man. And there he was, wearing a long overcoat, smoking a big stogie, and loving all the commotion he was causing.
I thought back to that moment as I read our Gospel story for this morning. Jesus was a celebrity in first-century Israel, and wherever he went, people were desperate to get to him. Mark tells us that people “recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak.”
I wanted to see Arnold because he was famous. People flocked to see Jesus for a considerably better reason. Jesus offered them something they could not find elsewhere: healing.
As we know, effective medical treatment was not available in the first century, so when word spread that a genuine healer was nearby, everybody showed up.
Today, despite the very real problems in our health care system, we are blessed with excellent medical care. If an epidemic hit two thousand years ago, people just died. Now we have vaccines and hospitals, and thanks be to God for them.
But healing takes many forms. That was true in the first century, and that is true today.
My favorite line in our reading is not the one about people being cured by touching the fringe of Jesus’ cloak, although that is pretty amazing. My favorite line comes earlier: “As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”
Probably Jesus cured some sick people that day, too. But here Mark emphasizes healing in a broader sense of the term. Jesus doesn’t just cure sickness. Jesus teaches people who are lost. Jesus guides people like a compassionate shepherd. Jesus offers people more than physical health. Jesus offers them fuller, richer, deeper life.
As I think about our mission as Church, as Christ’s body in our time, as people called to embrace Christ’s mission in the world, I think especially about Christ’s compassion for that crowd. What Christ did for them, Christ does for us today, and what Christ calls us to do for others, in his name and with his help.
So what does that broader healing look like?
Last week I read a newspaper article that suggests an answer.  In it, Emily Esfahani Smith begins with the observation that we all conceive of our lives as a kind of story, a story about where we come from, where we are, and where we think we are going.
Most of us don’t have many occasions to tell our story, and we may not be fully conscious of our own stories. But my guess is, all of you could summarize the main events of your lives right now, without any trouble. You could tell your story. That is because we carry our stories in our heads even when we aren’t thinking about them.
Smith says that story, the story of our lives that we carry around in our heads, shapes our sense of who we are and how we fit in the world around us.
Our stories all differ. But despite those differences, most life stories take one of two basic forms.
Some people describe their lives in the form of what she calls “contamination stories.” Things start out OK; something goes wrong; and it’s never made right. The good is contaminated.
The alternative is what the psychologist calls “redemptive stories.” In redemptive stories things still go wrong, sometimes horribly wrong. But people with redemptive stories are eventually able to grow, despite, and sometimes because of, the traumas they experience along the way. They experience redemption.
Now, we can think about our recent life here at Saint David’s either way.
Immediately before the pandemic hit, things were going really well. We were growing. The spirit of the parish was upbeat. We were starting some exciting new ministries. I remember thinking we were in a really sweet spot.
Then came the pandemic and all the challenges associated with it. What do we do with that? Is it contamination, or redemption?
A contamination story of our last eighteen months would focus on what we have lost, and there is plenty of that. I don’t need to list our losses. We can all think of things the last year took from us. That’s one way to think about what we have gone through. That’s one way to tell our story. That’s one way to think about where we are right now and about where we are going. But it’s not a pretty story.
It’s probably too early to tell a truly redemptive story about the last eighteen months. But I would like to think we all could do that too. We could tell a story about our resilience, about the faithfulness of our people in a difficult time, about the things we were able to hold on to and the things we have learned. That is the beginning of a redemptive story.
The pandemic was and is horrible, of course. But if we tell our pandemic story as a story of redemption, as I believe we should, then we will think differently about where we are right now and about where we are going.
It will not surprise you to hear that people who tell redemptive stories of their lives are much more likely to thrive than people who tell contamination stories. People who conceive of their own lives in terms of redemption experience greater levels of well-being, fuller and more abundant lives, lives of grace and goodness. They experience healing in the broad sense of the word.
Now think back to Jesus’ story. In our reading for this morning, Jesus was a rock star. People flocked from all over just to touch his cloak. Everything was great.
But we know what comes next, and Jesus did too. Jesus will be betrayed by one of his closest friends, abandoned by the rest, and crucified. That is as bad as it can get.
So how should we tell Jesus’ story? Contamination, or redemption? It was certainly a story of loss. But Jesus’ story is a story of redemption. Indeed Jesus’ story is THE story of redemption, the grand story that shapes all of our individual stories.
In Christ we see that no matter how bad things might get, redemption is always possible with God. No matter how bad things might get, we are heading towards eternal life and God’s kingdom.
Jesus gives us all a redemptive story if only we have the ears to hear. And by giving us a redemptive story, Jesus offers us true healing, true life, Christian hope.
And so I thank Christ, who offers redemption of all our sorrows, who teaches us always to hope, who offers us healing no matter what form our wounds take. And I pray that we may share Christ’s redeeming grace with a hurting world.
In Christ’s name. Amen.
 Emily Esfahani Smith, “We Need to Process What We’ve Lost,” Sunday Review, New York Times, June 27, 2021, page 3.
7/21/2021 06:35:27 am
Years ago I heard a slightly different explanation for successful vs unsuccessful people. The successful ones were those who angered in, while the unsuccessful were those who angered out. When someone angers in, he does not focus on external factors when things go wrong, but rather looks inside himself to see what he needs to change. An angering out person tend to blame mistakes and failures on external forces, such as the government, the schools, or other people in general, but never on himself.
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Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan