Sin as Disease

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This past Sunday I was asked to give the Homily (aka sermon). I thought I would post it for those of you who are religiously inclined.

Today we remember the healing of the Paralytic. Many homilies have been written on this miracle, most of them focusing on the connection between physical illness and our great enemy sin.

Today, I would like to focus on two aspects of this story, the charge that Jesus gave him afterwords, as they met in the temple and the loneliness of the man.

“See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.”

You see it wasn't enough that this man was healed by God, he needed to do some follow up work. If you will, he was given a prescription by Christ that he needed to follow for the healing to remain intact.

I think we all can relate to this. We have all gone to the doctor for some sickness or ailment and after we are diagnosed, we are given a prescription to take. This medicine is critical to our successful recovery, our successful healing. How many times have you heard a doctor admonish you to:

“Now take this entire prescription, don't just take it until you feel better. If you don't complete the course of this medicine, your sickness is likely to return, and be worse than before.”

I know I have heard this statement more times than I can count. Right now you might be asking yourself what these two things have to do with each other, and more importantly, what this has to do with our lives today.

I am glad you asked! You see, sin is a disease. It infects us after we are brought into this world, and the longer we are in it the worse it becomes.

Our Baptism and Chrismation are Holy acts of Healing that enter into our Person and attack sin, this horrible disease, and allow us to move closer to God.

But just like Jesus' healing of the Paralytic, after our grafting into the Church, we are given a prescription from our Heavenly Father. We are given the most perfect and blessed course of treatment known to man.

Services like Holy Unction are an example of this Holy Medicine. The epistle of St. James tells us of the commission to the presbyters to heal the sick:

“Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” (Jas 5: 13-15)

You see from this passage that the Church has always connected physical healing with spiritual healing, and we as inheritors of this teaching get to live out this truth in the present day.

And where do we find this treatment? In Christ's Holy Church. The sacraments and services of the church are the course of treatment given to us by God to combat the re- emergence of Sin in our lives, and to lead us to a place of perfect healing and cleansing.

And just like a prescription for antibiotics that you are charged to take until they are gone, the Holy Prescription given to us by our Lord must be taken in whole. No part can be removed without compromising the effectiveness of the entire treatment.

Confession leads to Communion, which leads to Prayer, which leads to Alms Giving, which leads a softening of the heart, which leads to Holiness, which leads us to God.

And just as these sacraments build on one another, and lead us to God, so to do the services.

Great Vespers leads us to the Divine Liturgy, which leads us to Winter Lent, which leads us to Christmas where we meet Our Lord God and Savior face to face, which leads us to Great and Holy Lent, which leads us to His Passion, which Brothers and Sisters, leads us to Salvation.

Christ's Holy Church is a Hospital. More appropriately, it is like an emergency room, filled with hurting, dying people. We all come here to be healed and saved. But just like an emergency room the Church can be noisy and messy.

Saint John Chrysostom whose Liturgy we celebrate today famously coined the phrase “The Church is a hospital.” Both he and Saint Basil the Great wrote prayers for healing that eventually formed the basis for the Holy Unction service.

Just like an emergency room, the church is where miracles happen and people are saved. That is why we go to the hospital when we are sick, and that is why we come to Christ's Holy Church. To be healed.

Now, we must speak of the loneliness of the Paralytic. As we are introduced to this man we discover that he has been there a long time, but with no friends to place him in the pool, he could never be healed.

In this story we discover one of the most important lessons the scriptures have to teach, us. We cannot be saved alone. Salvation and healing come in community, when friends are there to lift you up, to carry you, physically as well as emotionally and spiritually, to the pool of Christ's healing and love.

One of my favorite icons illustrates this concept beautifully. While viewing the “Ladder of Divine Ascent” icon, you see that those who are climbing the ladder to heaven alone, are being pulled down by the demons.

It is only those who are climbing, hand-in-hand, that are able to fight their way to the top. Only together can we hope to overcome Sin, Death and the Devil.

Only together can we climb the ladder to heaven. Only together can we find healing and salvation. Our ascent, and our healing continues today, as we come together as one body to celebrate The Lord's Supper.

I would like to close with a story.

I had a friend who couldn't understand why my wife and I converted to Orthodoxy, some 7 years ago. I tried to explain to him all the gifts that the church gives us, gifts that we found we needed.

Confession, communion, holy unction, the cycle of services that order our lives. I spoke to him with more emotion and love than I was aware I had for the Church, at that time. When I was done with my impassioned outburst he simply said to me:

“All those things are great, but they are crutches. You don't need them, all you need is Jesus.”

I was stunned, offended and at a loss for words. This was a friend whom I loved, opened my home to when he needed it, and he had just insulted something I loved, cherished and felt as though I was saved by.

It was horrible.

It wasn't until many months later that I realized that he was partially right. These things were crutches. But my God we need them. When you break your leg, you go to the doctor and they put it in a cast, and they send you home with a pair of crutches.

You are given these crutches because until your leg is healed, you cannot stand on your own. If you tried you would fall, and hurt yourself even worse. If you break your arm or collarbone, you are given a sling for your arm.
These things are done to help with your healing, since your body cannot do it properly on its own. For us the sacraments and services of the church are exactly the same.

We cannot hope to stand in this world of sin without the help of God, and He has chosen, in His wisdom, to give us crutches, so that we may stand while we are being healed, being made whole.
And knowing our own weakness, he has given us each other, so that we might lean on each other when times are the worst. Here in this place, we lift each other up.

Our God is a glorious God of healing and Miracles. He is the Great Physician who heals soul, body and spirit. Let us today begin again our course of healing with a renewed commitment.

Please forgive me if my words have fallen short of their mark, I am but the most sick among you, clinging to God and his healing mercy.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.