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Preaching Service, QCB, 7.3.78 (Previously 8.8.76 at UTC, Bangalore)
2 Cor 11.30-33
Mark 10.17-27 (2038 words)
Theme: We are all walking-wounded
I would like to share with you this evening the good news that we are all; walking wounded. Even though we find ourselves wounded, wee are enabled to walk by the grace that comes in and through Jesus Christ. And no matter how well we, or others, may walk, we are all of us wounded. We are all "walking wounded".
This is the message that we have heard in all three of our readings. Deuteronomy reminds us that it is not by our own strength that we walk, but it is by the gift of God's strength alone that we are enabled to prosper in what we do.
St Paul in 2 Corinthians sets before us clearly that the only thing we have of ourselves that we can boast about is our weakness, even our shame and ignominy, such as he experienced by being let down outside the walls of Damascus in a basket, for, as he goes on to say, God's strength is made perfect in weakness.
And Jesus in St Mark's Gospel reminds us that our attachment to our own self-made security is no real security and no real health or salvation. All of us have tried to thread a needle, and Jesus' original statement in Aramaic was probably that it was harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom than it is to try to pass a thick rope through the eye of a needle. Confronted by this startling challenge to depend wholly on God and not on themselves, the disciples cry out, "Who then can be saved?" And Jesus reminds them and us, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." He alone is the one who enables us to walk in the way of salvation, for we are all of us wounded, the weak or sick to whom Jesus knew he was sent, and it is only by the grace of God that we are enabled to be the "walking wounded".
We are all "walking wounded".
Let us now look more deeply at the wounded part. We find ourselves in a world where success is valued highly. And in the midst of this, we have been freed to fail. For the great good news of the gospel is that we do not have to succeed - we only have to try. Always remember that it is not only the road to hell that is paved with good intentions - so is the road to heaven. The difference lies in this: Those on the road to hell fail to fulfil their good intentions - and they give up. Those on the road to heaven also fail - but they continually ask God to start them over. That is the difference.
So we are freed to be failures. We are freed from having to succeed - and therefore, we are freed to try. We are freed to enter whole-heartedly into the tasks that lie before us even when we cannot see how we are going to complete them, for our hope is in God as the one whose power alone will bring our work to fulfilment.
We are freed to walk with our wounds, be they physical or psychological, whether they are sorrow, or disappointments, or feelings of inadequacy.
And we are freed from envy of others, for all are walking wounded. We are freed from being frozen in our own sense of inadequacy by the apparent strengths of others, for they, too, are wounded, even if not in every way that we are.
Let me tell you a story to illustrate what I mean. For over 25 years I stuttered badly. There were certain sounds which I found very hard to say. My home was in Oak Park, Illinois, near Chicago, and I studied at the University of Michigan. But when people asked me where Oak Park was, I could not say "Chicago", for that "Ch" sound caused me to stutter. And when I was asked where I was studying, I could not say "Michigan", for that started with "M", a labial, and I had trouble saying sounds that made me put both lips together. And words that began with a glottal stop like "every" and "elephant" were a terror to me, so that I could not even tell people that I was studying chemical engineering without tripping over engineering. The greatest horror of all was to ring someone up on the telephone only to find that I could not say a word.
Not only did I stutter, but I also had a visibly damaged ear of which I was very conscious and of which I thought everyone else was also conscious - and so, being doubly conscious of my ear and my stuttering, I stuttered all the more.
I tried to hide my stuttering, and I tried to by-pass it. My speaking vocabulary became very large as I tried to find words that were easier to say, and I even developed various body motions to try to use some of the nervous energy that was evident in my stuttering. But these devices were only crutches, and rather weak crutches at that, that still left me a cripple in my speech.
In 1951 I tried to enter theological seminary, but I was turned down at that point in part because of my stuttering problem. What was I to do? The answer turned out to be a course at Northwestern University held on Friday nights at their downtown campus in the heart of Chicago. The course was called "Group Therapy for Stutterers". In that course we not only learned good speech patterns and practiced them during the week, but above all, we learned two things that were our passport to freedom.
1) We learned that everyone stutters - it is only a case of how much one stutters, rather than a case of whether or not one stutters. Everyone is a stutterer, everyone is wounded, it is a just a case of how much.
2) The second and greater point was borne out and emphasized at our very last session. At that last session we gave ourselves our own grade for the course,. and we also were asked to bring a friend along to the class. One member of the class sent in a postcard, saying that he could not face up to that: he could not admit in the face of strangers that he was a stutterer. He wrote to the instructor that he could give him a failing grade, but he could not face that final test. And, indeed, he had failed - he had f ailed himself. For the great passport to freedom was the freedom to admit to others that we stuttered.
We had found that other people did not pay attention to our stuttering the way that we did, and when we did not hide the fact that we stuttered, we did not worry about "being found out", and so we did not stutter at all or at least not very much.
When in 1954 I went back to the same seminary and was interviewed by the same dean, I opened the interview by saying that I stuttered. When the interview was over, he said to me, "If you had not said that you stuttered, I would not have known it." And I said to him, "If I had not said it, I would have stuttered."
And so, in Christ we are free to admit our wounds. In Christ we are freed to live within the limitations that they impose on us: we do not have to pretend that they are not there, and we do not have to work to hide them. As St Paul says in 2 Corinthians, "Three times I asked the Lord to take away the thorn in my side," and he said, "No, my strength is enough for you. For my strength is made perfect in weakness."
We have no need to be a "success" as the world counts success. We are free to fail. We are free to acknowledge failure. We are free to say, "It was my fault" "I made a mistake." We are free to be responsible in the midst of repeated failure, for we are held by the grace of God, his loving favour, as his beloved "walking wounded".
We are freed from the bonds of our wounds so that we may walk for our neighbour. We are freed to see that he or she, too, is wounded, and needs our help and support. When we see the big, brash person who seems to ride roughshod over others, we are freed to see that that person is really only trying to hide his or her inadequacies, an we are freed to try to help that person become more human and humane despite his or her wounds.
And so we are all wounded, but we are the walking wounded. How are we to walk?
We are to walk in such a way by God's grace that we redeem our wounds. We are to live by God's strength, held by his love, so that we with our wounds may be a heartening example to others with their wounds. We are to use the insights that our wounds have given us to recognize the same wounds in others, and, in Christ, to get alongside them and bear with them, strengthening them with the selfsame love of God with which we have been strengthened.
And there is something else that we can do with our wounds: in Christ we can afford the cost not only of admitting them to ourselves and to others, but also the cost of letting others help us with them that they, too, may be strengthened as God's walking wounded.
In the parish where I was first a curate we had a full-time parish secretary. Her name was Janet warren and she had been born with severe cerebral palsy. Her mouth was twisted and she spoke with difficulty. Her whole body was bent and twisted, and she hobbled when she walked. But she had learned how to walk and to talk and to take care of herself. It was a very hard-won independence, and for her it was a pearl of great price.
One Sunday, as she approached the steps that led up to the altar rail to receive Communion, a new young acolyte, seeing how she struggled as she walked, came forward to help her up the steps. Instinctively she started to draw back - No! He was not going to take her hard-won independence from her. - She did not need his help and she did not want it. - But then, she gave him her arm an let him help her up the steps, for, as she said afterwards, he needed to help her, and if she had not let him do so, if she had snatched away her arm, he would have found it much harder to help anyone the next time, and above all to help those who could not do without his help. With twisted face and body, she was one of the most beautiful people I have ever known, truly showing forth in her loving self-giving the glory of God as seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
May we do the same self-giving with our wounds.
As the wounded ones whom God has chosen, as the ones who have gathered in this place at his bidding, as ones who are ever more deeply conscious of our own inadequacies in the face of the tasks of loving service to which he has called us, let us rejoice that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ does not choose the fit, but rather he fits his chosen, and he will fit ujs for the tasks at hand, be they teaching or studying or service, or just plain with and for each other. As ones who are upheld by God's Spirit in Christ, let us go forth as his "walking wounded" supporting and serving one another in this community that we may learn to support and serve wherever we may go to the glory of his Holy Name. Amen.