February 8, 2015
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls, Rome, Italy
“He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless”
Over the last few weeks, several of our church members have been facing challenging health concerns.
Our church secretary, Andrea, has been on medical leave for the last three weeks, and was finally hospitalized this week because of weakness, fainting and a loss of blood.
Luis, an Argentinian member of the Latin American community, was diagnosed with cancer recently and has been receiving chemotherapy.
And Barbara, Nancy Jennings’ mother, had to be hospitalized this past week as well, due to an issue with a kidney stone.
These are but a few of the physical maladies that the people of St. Paul’s are struggling with in these last days…I know there are several more.
Eyes that need to see…flus that need to go away…hearts that need to work properly.
As a priest, and not a medical doctor, I find my options in the face of disease and sickness normally limited to prayer, check-ins and visitation.
I pray for God to heal these brothers and sisters of their sickness, at Morning Prayer in the chapel throughout the week, and in my personal petitions throughout the day.
If parishioners let me know that they are hospitalized, I am glad to go and pray with them, sit with them… laugh with them and cry with them.
In addition to those pastoral efforts, on the first Sunday of the month, members of the prayer group join me at the altar rail in offering healing prayers after the service.
While I can offer no medicine, nor medical solutions to people’s problems, I always leave those visits in the hospital, and those times of prayer at the altar rail with a sense of God’s presence…and an assurance that even though the needs may seem overwhelming, God indeed has a sincere desire (and ability) to see each of us restored, renewed and reborn.
Restoration. Renewal. Rebirth.
This work is what God has always been about.
In today’s reading from Isaiah, the people of God need to be reminded that our God is a God who “gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless,” because they have been riddled with the despair and dis-ease of exile.
After being cast out from Jerusalem, and sent throughout the Babylonian empire, the faithful who Isaiah addresses need to be reminded that the “one who stretched out the heavens” will “renew their strength” and bring them back to their home.
Did they hear this promise from their place of exile and believe it?
Have you not known? Isaiah asks.
Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
God will come for you and God longs for your restoration, your renewal and your rebirth.
We live in a world in which that message is characterized as either folly or simply misguided wishful thinking.
In a world where terrorists behead and burn their enemies at will, where atheism and apathy reign in the public square, and where even the most advanced medical care can not stave off death, it can often feel as if those of us who put our faith in God’s power and promise are hoping against hope.
It is counter cultural to believe in a God who brings exiles back home…who raises up mother-in-laws from the brink of death and quiets the demons who surround us…and who can lead churches, communities and societies into new life, mission, and purpose.
Yet that is the God that we have come to know in Jesus Christ.
That is the God that we feel beside us in the midst of healing prayers…that is the God that we taste and see when receiving the holy food and drink of new and everlasting life…that is the God that pitches a tent within our houses of worship, and in the temporary dwelling places of our very bodies.
That is the God we know through conversation with one another…the God we pray to when things are going badly and to whom we give thanks when times are good…
When old divisions fall and new alliances are forged…when the categories the world assigns to us break down in the light of the Gospel…
God is in the midst of all that.
Because our God is a God that restores, renews, and gives new birth.
Today after church we will assemble in the crypt for our annual parish meeting…a time for gathering as a large community to learn about what we did as a parish in 2014 and where we are headed in 2015.
While there are several elements of health in this community, witnessed by the many accomplishments and connections highlighted in the annual report…
…there are also areas of our common life that need to be restored by the God who was able to restore Simon Peter’s Mother-in-law to health.
There are elements of our community that need God to bring them back from the exile in which they’ve languished.
There are aspects of our church that need to be reborn.
It is the work that God has always been up to, and it is up to us as a church and as individuals to join with God in seeing it done.
Isaiah proclaimed God’s good news to those who had gotten so used to bad news.
St. Paul went from persecutor to proponent of the Gospel, and looked for ways to connect with all the people, Jew and Gentile, to whom God sent him.
The disciples brought the lame, the sick, the possessed, the tired, the diseased, the demon-wracked, the blind, and the paralyzed to Jesus… so that God’s work of healing and restoration could be carried out.
Today in 2015, we are called to do our part in spreading this good news by employing our gifts and treasures to collaborate with God once more.
The question you may be asking is: why?
Why should I give to this effort, when friends continue to suffer and die…when the world seems to be spiraling out of control…when exile and disease seem like an eternal human destiny?
Because there are those who have never felt the healing of our God…but we have.
Because there are those who have never seen the light nor tasted the soul-slaking peace of our God…but we have.
Because through baptism we have been called…through communion we have been nurtured…and through participation in a community with Christ at its center…we have witnessed that God is in the midst of us and there is no response we can give to the grace we have received except pass it on to others.
That is why volunteers serve in our Refugee Center each week.
That is why the prayer group faithfully gathers each Wednesday.
That is why you serve on vestry, visit the sick, or plan an Easter party with other parents.
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… the God of Isaiah…and the God we have met in Jesus Christ is in the midst of us…
…struggling alongside us… giving power to the faint, and strengthening the powerless…
…and God is not just about healing us, but is going “on to the neighboring towns, so that the message of God’s restoration, renewal, and rebirth may be proclaimed there also.”
Will we go along to spread the good news as well? Will we bear witness, with all our hearts, minds and strength to the truth that we have been fortunate enough to receive?
Take heart good people of God! The God of restoration, renewal and rebirth goes with us, is our shield and rear guard, will guide our actions and decisions, and show us the way that leads home.
And with God…nothing will be impossible.