*Due to technical issues, the sermon is unavailable to stream*
Happy Memorial Day weekend. This, for many of us tends to be a weekend full of celebrations:  family parties, graduation open houses, first trips to the pool, and hopefully some thanksgivings along the way, through parades and prayers and other means, that remind us of the courageous sacrifices that led to these liberties and pastimes we so enjoy.
This year feels different to me, maybe it always should.  I would like nothing more than to spend the next 15 minutes telling jokes about parades and barbeques, but this year I am so aware of how tone deaf that would be.  In other nations, there is not an historic remembrance of days heroic days gone by, but instead, today, there is a daily reality of burying the dead, waiting for the next strike to come, and wondering if peace and freedom will ever come.  It is so in Palestine and Israel, and also in Ukraine, in Sudan and in Haiti, and about a dozen other places where local unrest and struggles for power destabilize governments and forever change the lives of regular people.
Today as I talk about healing and wholeness, I will try to say something faithful about this practice of faith with our world’s tragic and violent conflicts as the backdrop. I will inevitably say things some of you will perceive to be wrong.  I am not a pundit nor am I well-schooled in any of these particular conflicts and I do not pretend to be.  I have tried to look into some of our biblical texts and put them in conversation with the world around us.  I hope that at least some of what I have to say will be helpful as you are confronted daily with the same news I see, as we seek together to be honest, to lament, to act, and to hope.
So again, the starting point for me, is to talk today about healing and wholeness, both words that require some definition.  Healing, when it’s talked about in church, often conjures up some unhelpful images.  Some of us imagine the crooked televangelist or the horror movie about an exorcism, and we’d prefer that the minister leave healing to the healthcare industry.  I want to step back from that narrow definition and take a minute to remind you that most churches, this one included, engage in healing ministries every single day.
In early church history and throughout the Middle Ages, stories of faith as a miraculous healer were abundant, but even in the last few centuries, since the Age of Enlightenment caused a great rift between religion and science, the church has continued to be a major source of healing.  Religious institutions have often been the primary driver of support for hospitals and healthcare:  in peacetime, on the battlefield, and through medical missions.  In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the church did other public works of healing; it was largely the work of church people that reformed and modernized broken and often harmful institutions:  schools, workplaces, prisons, orphanages and the like, to convert them from places of oppression to places of healing.  And the activism of churches, historically and today, continues to provide healing through social welfare agencies, changes to harmful economic policies, and healing to the environment.
All of this is to say nothing about the more personal healing work that happens through neighborhood congregations, like this one, every day.  Every week, we host groups for mental health or addiction recovery; we extend pastoral care to married couples or parents who are struggling, or grieving people who have lost a loved one; all of these are ministries of healing.  Some elements of our culture continue to put strong separation between the physical and the spiritual, but there are many places where those lines are blurred.  In the midst of a healthcare system that is often dehumanizing, the church cares not only for sick and the dying persons, but for the doctors and nurses who serve so tirelessly in systems that are broken.  And there is increasing awareness that caring for our mental and spiritual health is directly related to our physical health—and not just when miracles happen.  As the title of one current best seller tells it, The Body Keeps the Score of the traumas in our lives.  When we seek to heal the spirits and souls of people who are hurting, we are often healing their bodies also.
In addition to what I’ve said about healing, I’ll say something more briefly about the word wholeness.  Wholeness, I believe, is not something we are promised in this life.  So many of the marketing messages we receive from health clubs, beauty products, or self-help book titles suggest that you can be whole, but that is not what we teach here.  A core belief of Christian faith is that we live, and will continue to live in a broken world as regular human people.  Wholeness is possible only when we return home to the God who created us.  Many of the things that are marketed to us as a means to wholeness only cause us greater misery when we find that wholeness has not been achieved.  But one of the gifts of faith is greater honesty about the limits of wholeness, so that we might come to a greater acceptance of our life as it really is.  So you might say that healing is anything that takes us on a journey toward wholeness.  It is a “journey toward” because, wholeness may not be a place where we can “arrive” in this life, but a journey toward it still matters.  Ironically, we may be on the path to wholeness most of all when we make peace with the idea that we will not reach it.
So there’s healing—the many ways we help each other get better, and there is a path toward wholeness, which is a thing worth aspiring to, but not one we can fully achieve.  These definitions are not mine; I find them in the ancient stories of the Scripture.  The stories of the Bible speak of healing and wholeness in almost countless variety; today we read three:  a man with a withered hand, a daughter at the point of death, a child overwhelmed by an evil spirit.  We read these stories at face value and they seem like ancient or unreal or irrelevant tales of miracles, but the more time I spend in ministry, the more I see that life is full of stories like these.  Each one shows the limits of wholeness, but also the journey of healing as part of a story of hope.
The first story is of a person who is otherwise healthy, but suddenly a part of his body begins to fail him.  Could there be any more relevant story?  This is the quintessential definition of middle age and the second half of life, when we discover, one body part at a time, that this machine is not so invincible as we thought it was?  If we are lucky, we may discover that healing is possible, but even then we have to care for ourselves differently than we once did.  So many of us can relate to that moment of first realizing we are a whole person with a part that is not serving us well:  the man with the strained back, the woman with macular degeneration…the man with the withered hand.
The second story, of the daughter sick to the point of death is just as relevant and even more gripping.  Every parent knows what it is to worry about a sick child; thankfully most of us have not experienced one at the point of death.  But those of you who have been active in this congregation for a while can recount by name the children at the point of death who we as a church have prayed for; you have known their parents, who would have done anything to have made them well.  A Bible story of this tragic circumstance and its hope for a good ending is not irrelevant; it is for some, too close to home.
And the third story is about a demon or an unclean spirit.  Yes, these spiritual matters may seem strange for us.  But in a more primitive culture, is it not reasonable that this may have been how they talked of mental illness?  So often, even for us, mental illness seems like a way in which some outside force breaks in and takes hold of the whole life of an otherwise healthy person.  Sometimes this happens with terrible consequences, but with help, with healing, often a person who has been imprisoned by such a force can be set free of it.
In all three of these stories, the idea of a journey toward wholeness holds firm.  Each of these people, thankfully, has an experience of healing—something gets better, which is not always the case—and there are Bible stories of that as well.  But each person healed in these stories, even afterwards, will live on in a broken world.  During, and even after they are healed in these stories, people who surround them are angry, agitated, and judgmental.  An act of healing takes place, yes, and even so, these people are still surrounded by a world where many other things remain broken:  poverty and hunger and violence are rampant, and war and oppression persist.  Healing is a miracle, but it is not to be equated with perfection, or wholeness; healing may in fact be a reminder to give thanks for the blessings we do enjoy, in a world that is still far short of perfect.  Wholeness may not be possible yet, but the reality of healing helps us get up and keep going.
So what is the broader application of these stories?  Does the healing and wholeness in these ancient texts have anything to say about the incredible brokenness of our world?  Do they offer us any hope for healing in the midst of great suffering and tragedy?  What about the world events that started this sermon?
What is going on in the war between Israel and Hamas is undeniably tragic.  As a pastor, and not a pundit or politician, my primary aim throughout this conflict has been to lean more toward pastoring than toward preaching a position.  I want to listen and learn from the trauma that is being experienced far beyond this congregation but also within it by those who are closest to friends and family directly affected by the conflict—and I will continue to do so.
The conflict is so tragic and traumatic because it is so incredibly complicated.  Any attempt to suggest that there is a clear and obvious way forward or that a single group is at fault deserves suspicion.  The most thoughtful voices seem to be the ones who can hold together two thoughts at the same time, even if they are in conflict.  We can speak up for a free Palestinian land as well as standing for a free Israeli one.  We can show compassion toward people whose loved ones have been hostages for a long time; we can also stand for the truth that any innocent Palestinian man, woman, or child killed in recovering those hostages is a moral catastrophe.  We can treasure the humanity and dignity of Palestinian Arabs and the humanity and dignity of Israeli Jews—and we can be compassionate toward the loved ones of both, in our own communities here close to home.  And even though holding all of these values I am describing amount to something less than wholeness; when they are taken together, all of them involve a commitment to healing.
I will admit to you, holding together these competing demands at times feels impossible to me, and can make us feel helpless.  But we need not feel helpless or hopeless, for there are things we can do.
We can look to our past as Christians and Presbyterians, in which we usually place ourselves at the center of things, and instead we can seek to center the stories and struggles of the Palestinian and Jewish people whose histories are part of our own.
We can commit to learning more about these histories, both of them, from as many sources as we can.  When that task seems too great with all the demands of our daily lives, we can at least make the commitment to get started; to go one step further today to increase our understanding.
We can take positions of activism for peace as each of us may feel called; we can do so knowing that there is no aspect of this conflict that is without complexity—but that there are many ways to seek healing.
We can speak up when we hear or witness bias against either Palestinians or Jews, who are so frequently painted with a broad brush.  When we hear the insinuation that they all are in league with the tactics of Hamas or of the military strategy of Israel, we can expose these for the falsehoods they are.
We can hold prayer vigils alongside those who await the return of hostages; we can commit to fasting to heighten our awareness of those who are starving in Gaza.  Ideally we will do both.
There must be a better way.   Rarely have I felt so conflicted as I have in the days of this war, which is so far beyond my control, and has so many dimensions, and yet to say nothing for fear of saying something wrong is its own moral failure.  So I invite you to continue to be in prayer with me, in these tender days, that we may find faithful ways to think, act, and live.
That we might never be helpless or hopeless, let us go to God in prayer:
God, we ask that you would show compassion toward the people of Palestine and the people of Israel, the people of other violent and war torn nations, and their loved ones and allies around the globe and here in our own city.  Give courage to all who seek to hold together complicated commitments of compassion; help us accept the limits of wholeness, and yet seek healing, with no limit to our love.  We pray for world leaders; we pray for soldiers called to war and their families; we pray for innocent people in the path of war, enduring daily suffering we can hardly imagine.  And may we remember, on this our own celebration of Memorial Day, the tremendous sacrifices in our nation’s own history.  Our own past conflicts arose out of something much less than wholeness.  Those who have lived through them have suffered trauma many of us cannot imagine.  In their lives too, O God, may you offer healing.  Amen.