Friends, I know the past season in our church life has been very difficult, very stressful.
Since the end of May, we have had three ambulance visits to Mt. Haley, for three different church members. You all remember, of course, that R.H. passed away while working on our church property earlier this summer. Then two Sundays ago, D.S. had a non-epileptic seizure during church, and this past Sunday, D.O. had a small stroke during church. (I’m using their initials rather than their full names because we try to be sensitive when sharing this kind of information online.)
It’s enough to make anyone a little leery of coming back to church next week.
I am reminded of the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, which Jesus himself quoted at the beginning of his ministry:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 NIV)
Interestingly, Jesus quoted Isaiah a little differently than Isaiah appears in our English translations today. In particular, one phrase from Isaiah 61:1-2 is missing from Jesus’s words – not because Jesus didn’t believe this or was somehow twisting scripture, but because translations are sometimes complicated and tricky after hundreds and hundreds of years. The noteworthy phrase for us in Isaiah 61 is this:
“He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted.” (Isaiah 61:1 NIV)
We usually think of “brokenhearted” as describing someone who has lost a loved one or who has gone through a painful breakup or divorce. Most often, “brokenhearted” describes something relational, a state of being overcome by grief or despair. The closer the relationship, the deeper the brokenheartedness.
And you know what? If you are feeling a bit brokenhearted by the recent stressful situations at church, that’s a good thing – because it means that your relationships with other people at church are important to you. I would be concerned if you weren’t feeling kind of desperate at this point in time.
I know I am! After this past Sunday’s incident, I was reminded of Rosemary Gifford, who passed away just a year and a half ago. Rosemary always said that bad things always happen in sets of three. If two people close to her died, then she was unsettled until a third person died, and then she could relax a bit. Oddly, that pattern seemed to hold true for a long time.
So now we have had our set of three visits by paramedics to Mt. Haley. That’s it, right? We’re finished with this medical emergency business, right?
I sure hope so.
It’s time for God to bind up the brokenhearted around here. It’s time for us to draw closer to each other, reaffirm our faith in Jesus Christ together, and be strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit. In reality, God has already begun doing that work, and God will continue doing that work for as long as it takes.
There is no guarantee that we won’t have another medical emergency at church in the near future. We could have another this coming Sunday.
But the good news is that Jesus has entered into this world to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
One thing is for certain: Jesus is still in our midst. His presence joins us each time we gather together. And in a special way, we will recognize his presence this coming Sunday when we share Communion together.
So come. Don’t be afraid. Rest in the presence of Jesus. Remember to pray for D.S. and D.O. and all the others. Read Ephesians out loud once again. And allow God to begin binding up your broken heart, to ease your grief and despair, by drawing you close to him and close to your brothers and sisters in Christ.
I’ll see you Sunday.