The Essence of Healing
2007-10-08 by Nora Gallagher

Ruth 1:(1-7) 8-19a; 2 Timothy 2:(3-7) 8-15; Luke 17:11-19; Psalm 113

I am currently immersed in the historical Jesus which is taking my faith down a new channel, and so one of the first things I do these days is check to see if a passage I will preach on is thought to be Jesus’ actual words. This passage in Luke is not. I haven’t solved exactly how to preach on Jesus (not) without forcing the congregation through more than they wanted to know about biblical scholarship, although I may tackle some of that problem this week. 

According to The Five Gospels, (Funk, Hoover and the Jesus Seminar), this story isn’t Jesus talking, it’s the author of Luke and only appears in Luke. He probably got the general idea from the author of Mark (from passage 1:40-45). Possible reason for including it in his gospel?  Luke had a special interest in foreigners. Fun detail: it doesn’t make geographical sense to “pass between” Galilee and Samaria as Samaria separates Galilee from Judea (and Jerusalem) on the west bank of the Jordan. We may conclude that the author had only a general knowledge, says The Five Gospels, of the region.

Nevertheless, the story is compelling to me and what I’ve been thinking about since reading it a while back is: What is healing? What is the essence of healing?   To begin an answer: the essence of healing may be to write a new story or to have the capacity to write a new story.

When I started analysis, I discovered I had a set of unconscious rules: I enacted and reenacted old, painful patterns. (“Her cooking’s lousy, her hands are clammy,” sings Tom Lehrer, “ but what the hell, it’s home.” )  I preserved the past this way, embalmed the dead. During the first year of analysis, I thought, this is easy, I’ll change. To my surprise, it was nearly impossible. It was as if I were a thermostat with a set temperature. I had formed a complete (or incomplete) self around these simple rules: I won’t get what I need. I have to solve everyone’s problems. It’s better to build up resentment, provoke a fight and then lick my wounds in private.

In the work of therapy, as the old rules and their origins surfaced, I began to see possibility. James Hillman, the Jungian analyst, writes about how the patient and the analyst work together to “rewrite the case history into a new story.”  Hillman continues, “Some of the healing that goes on, maybe even the essence of it is this collaborative ‘fiction,’ this putting all the chaotic and traumatic events of a life into a new story.” [from “A Note on Story,” in Loose Ends (Dallas: Spring Publications, 1975), 2.]

This, of course, leads us straight to resurrection and the idea of writing a story in general, a favorite theme of this writer. One of the thoughts I have about this gospel is that it may be a way to talk about finding one’s own language for one’s own experiences of God, rather than the “pre-fab” language taught to us by institutionalized religion.

More soon.

A favorite communion quote
2007-10-06 by Jim Somerville

I love this quote about communion from Dom Gregory Dix’s The Shape of the Liturgy.  In speaking of Jesus’ command to “Do this in remembrance of me” he asks,

Was ever another command so obeyed?  For century after century . . . men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America (p. 742).

In all these circumstances, through all these centuries, whatever else they may or may not have done, Christian men and women have done this.

Let’s do it again tomorrow.


Jim Somerville is pastor of the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, DC; adjunct professor of preaching at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies; and one-time host of the Festival of Homiletics.

Sermon for October 7 on Psalm 137
2007-10-05 by David von Schlichten

 I have a second sermon at the "Sermon Feedback Cafe." Click on "Share It!" to get to the cafe and critique my sermon. Thanks! Dave :-)


(text: Psalm 137)


While skipping through the Psalms in one of my old worship books, I noticed something striking. The next Psalm after 136 was 138. 137 was missing. It had been erased, deleted, forgotten. Disremembered.

When it comes to worship and preaching, Psalm 137 is disremembered. We preachers run from it. It is famous, but it is also a passage that frightens preachers into avoidance.

It’s easy to see why. Psalm 137 is dark and brutal. It is a stormy, tumultuous, tempestuous psalm. The last verse is the stormiest. Most of us can weather the psalm until we get to verse nine, the end. After all, the rest of the psalm sounds like a typical lament. There is a problem, the psalmist is upset, she or he complains and cries to God. We Christians don’t do much lamenting as part of the worship service, but we are used to finding laments in the Bible.

That last line, however, is hard for us to accept. “Happy shall they be who take / your little ones / and dash them against the rock!” Little ones, babies, infants, newborns, helpless, dashed against the rock. Who could be happy about that? How awful. No wonder we dis-remember this psalm. It’s terrifying, ugly, deformed.

We might find that last line easier to accept if we keep in mind the context in which it was written. September 11 was terrible, but imagine this. Enemy soldiers invade your country. They destroy your capital city. They kill the children. They rape the women. They run to the holiest building in the nation, the great Temple, where God himself resides, and burn it down. Next, the enemy soldiers capture you and many others and carry you off to a foreign land, where they make fun of you, your god, and your now demolished, smoldering home city. Everything you care about – obliterated. This is September 11 times one-hundred.

The writer of Psalm 137 is recalling all of that viciousness, all of that brutality, when he writes that grisly line about dashing the little ones of his enemies against the rock. The psalmist wants justice. The Babylonians have ravaged his people and his nation and his city and his god. Everything is gone. In the last verse of Psalm 137, the psalmist is saying that now it is time to put an end to the Babylonians by destroying them completely. If we keep all that in mind, the line about the dashing of little ones is easier to accept.

It is no wonder that the psalmist is furious, and indeed it is in this expression of furious sorrow that we find one of Psalm 137’s greatest gifts to us readers. In that deepest of ugliness we find the highest of holy beauty. This psalm, with its harsh honesty, teaches us what we learn in brighter shades throughout the book of Psalms and even throughout the whole Bible: that we can take all our emotions to God. All of them.

Lots of us tend to think that we have to be all King Jamesian, polite and tidy when we pray, a thee or thou in every phrase. Psalm 137 says otherwise. Many passages do. If you feel sorrow, share with God that sorrow. If you feel anger, share with God your anger. If you are overwhelmed with hatred for someone who has abused you, share with God your hatred. God is patient and loving enough to listen to you, regardless of what you have to say. If the psalmist can write about killing babies, what might you say to God that you have refrained from saying?

The next time you pray, strive to be as open with God about your thoughts and feelings as you can, whatever they are, be they joy, fury, sorrow, love, fear, hatred, lust, apathy. Strip yourself before God. Hide not even the tiniest cell of emotion or thought from God. Do not withhold from God even the smallest nucleus of feeling, even a mitochondrion of emotion.

That scouring, liberating honesty is Psalm 137’s most obvious lesson to us, but there are other lessons, too, ones that many of us overlook because we fixate on that gruesome last verse about the babies. That last line blinds us to the psalm’s other truths. We stumble, fall over, unable to see what else lies in Psalm 137.

For instance, another essential lesson in the psalm is commitment to God. The psalmist is committed to God by being committed to Jerusalem, the city of God. The psalmist vows that she or he will never forget Jerusalem. She or he will always remain loyal and loving toward that most sacred of cities, the city in which God himself had dwelt. Likewise, we, too, are always to be faithful, strong, devoted to God and the Church.

No matter how people hurt us; no matter what horrible terrorism attacks us; no matter who makes fun of us; no matter how many people tell us that God is a myth for the weak or an antiquated ideal that we need to replace with science; no matter what outrageous slings and missiles people shoot at us, we are always ready to remain committed to God and the Church, just as the psalmist of 137 vows to remain devoted to Jerusalem, God’s city, even though it lies demolished.

Further, Psalm 137 teaches us not only to be committed to God, but also to trust in God, including in God's sense of justice. Toward the end of the psalm, the writer asks God to remember against his enemies. That is, the psalmist trusts God to fix the otherwise hopeless situation. Similarly, we, too, are to trust God to care for us. Especially when life is at its worst we are to trust in God.

Do you trust in God when life is overwhelming, when you are in exile, when enemies surround you and make fun of you? Would you? Would I?

Do we, like the psalmist in 137, remain strong, upright, sturdy, dedicated to God, even when our enemies drag us by the hair into exile? Let’s be strong like the psalmist. Stand twenty feet tall before Satan, knowing that the Father has made us, Christ has redeemed us, and the Spirit has empowered us. Tower thirty feet above the enemy, knowing that the Almighty has baptized us, is always with us, even to the end of the age.

Through Psalm 137 God teaches us about being honest in prayer, about being committed to God, and about trusting that God is committed to us. Thanks be to God, for now we can stand before our enemies seventy-seven times seven feet tall, because God never disremembers us, the worldwide Church.

David von Schlichten, poedifier

David von Schlichten's Sermon
2007-10-05 by David Howell

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Harsh honesty
2007-10-05 by Rick Brand

Somewhere along the way of World Wide Communion, and the longing for home and Psalm 137 there has to be a facing of the deep desire in all of us for revenge. The Psalm speaks volumes about our duty to be honest and clear in what we want from God. Dash the heads of their babies on the rocks because they did it to us.  Maybe at the table we can understand that God was willing to be dashed upon the Cross so that we no longer had to dash the babies of our enemies upon the rocks. The memories of home are as much a part of that Psalm as the prayer for revenge. All of it is lifted up in prayer.   It seems to me that we are too polite in much of our worship. This psalm has all kinds of passions and emotions.

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