Text: Matthew 7:12; 22:34-40
There are those moments in life and in the world when you can feel the tide shifting and you know that something significant is happening. History provides us with insight into those moments. Take for instance World War II. Young boys left the safety and security of home and return changed men, the secrets of war locked deep in their hearts-their lives changed forever. Life for women also shifted significantly during that time. They, too, stepped into new roles and responsibilities, becoming protectors and providers of home and family in unfamiliar ways. The early 40’s was a time of growing awareness that life had shifted and it would never be the same again. The Great Depression is another of those moments in American history. For those who lived through that time, they knew that life was shifting, that their world was changing, and that there would be no returning the old way of life. As a child and young adult, I listened to my great grandmother and all four of my grandparents talk about how that experience changed and shaped their lives in profound ways. Living through those difficult days made them different people and their world a different world, and they knew it. The Civil Rights movement is yet another of those defining moments in American history where, for those who lived through it, people could feel that the world was shifting-that old ways of thinking and acting no longer fit.
Most recently, as Americans, we had that feeling on September 11, 2001-a day when the ground beneath us shifted and something significant changed in us and in our world. At a core place, the shift was about how we see ourselves and others and our place in the world as Americans. Our perceptions of security, freedom, and trust were challenged through the events of 9/11 and we began seeing our world from a whole new perspective. In the eight years since, the ground beneath us has continued to shift. Then, less than a year ago, as we moved through the last presidential election, you could feel the ground shifting once again. The event: the election of the first African-American president. Yes, the focus of the shift was on the election of the first black president but it was more than that. There was a different message being proclaimed-one of change and hope and promise-one that signaled a shift in how we as Americans see our place in the world. And now we are standing in the full force of those shifting tides as our country debates the issue of health care reform-an issue that at its core represents a much larger shift in how we see ourselves and others. And as people of faith we cannot afford to stand safely on the shore on this issue while others brave the raging waters. No, on the issue of health care and the well-being of all God’s people, our faith calls us to action.
I will be the first to say that there is very little about the health care reform debate that I understand. The issues are complicated. The solutions seem even more complicated. Nightly, I have watched CNN and other networks as they have covered the conversations between various political analysts and health care professionals, as well as the town hall meetings between politicians and concerned citizens. It has been difficult, and at times painful, to take in the emotions, words, and actions of those on both sides of this issue. What has been clear to me, though, is this: for many Americans the issues surrounding the health care reform debate have, at a core place, tapped into the fears and anxieties of how our world is shifting and changing. As I see it, at stake in this debate are the moral, ethical, and spiritual principles of how we are going to treat one another as fellow human beings and how we will from this moment on choose to live in relationship to and with one another. Will we choose independence or interdependence? Living isolated from one another or in community with one another? Will we continue to see the world as “us against them” or as one human family? Will we move forward with an attitude of scarcity or abundance? Of despair or hope? I don’t mean in any way to take away from the significant questions of health care reform-our health care system is broken and we must act now to create a plan that will provide accessible, affordable, and quality care for every American. I just wonder, if in order to be successful in addressing our health care crisis we must all be willing to look at what we believe about how we are going to treat one another and live in relationship with one another.
On the issue of health care, Jesus was clear. Of the some thirty-five miracles ascribed to him more than half of them are healing miracles. In fact, the largest group of miracle stories mentioned in the New Testament is that concerning disease and disability. In the gospels, we read story after story of Jesus curing those afflicted with leprosy, fevers, bleeding, withered hands, deafness, blindness, paralysis, and many other unspecified illnesses. The well-being of the physical body was not insignificant to Jesus. No, more times than not, before caring for one’s soul and spirit, Jesus often cared for one’s physical body. Have you ever wondered why-why Jesus healed so many? I wonder if Jesus was trying to tell us in significant ways that the connection between the physical and the spiritual cannot and should not be overlooked. Is it possible that Jesus’ ministry begs the question of the appropriateness of the church’s attempt to address one’s spiritual needs while ignoring one’s physical needs. Yes, Jesus was clear-there is a connection between the physical and the spiritual. And over 46 million Americans who do not have access to affordable and quality health care, know this truth all too well.
I am reminded of a time in my own life when this connection between the physical and the spiritual was real. Many of you know the story of Nora’s adoption. Vickie and I were told from the outset that Nora had a heart defect and would need medical attention once we got her home to the States. Upon arriving in Russia, the first thing I was told was that Nora was sick and needed immediate medical attention. As you can imagine, I panicked and didn’t know what to do. There I was, in a foreign country with no idea of how to get my child the medical care she needed. When we finally saw a doctor, not for care but to complete adoption forms, I was told that her liver was enlarged and that she needed immediate attention. In all of this, no one offered any medical care to Nora. I felt helpless and scared. How would I-how could I-get her the care they said she needed? At night I would stay awake just to make sure she was breathing. If she cried I wondered if something hurt. No prayer, no words of scripture could have comforted me in those moments. No, in those moments I didn’t need words of faith, I needed a doctor. I needed someone to care for my child’s health. All I could think about was getting her home-here, to the United States-where I knew that I had access to quality health care. What I didn’t realize at that time was that I had neighbors right here in Raleigh-in Boylan Heights-who sat in their homes facing the same dilemma with their children that I faced with my child in Russia. In this country, where I did have access to quality health care for my child, my neighbors just one street over, didn’t. No one-young or old-should have to face that dilemma.
Several nights ago, as I was listening to the health care reform debate on TV, I heard a US House representative who is in his eighth term, say, and I quote, “Our current health care system is working for 97% of Americans. Should we turn a good system upside down for 3% of the population?” I’m not sure where he was getting his facts, but it really doesn’t matter. The answer is clear: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” The answer is clear: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
This past week, Sojourners (a movement whose mission is to articulate the biblical call to social justice) and a broad coalition of faith-based organizations hosted a conference call to confront and offer an alternative to the fear-based responses of health care reform. Recognizing the role of people of faith, President Obama, who had joined the call, said, “Time and again, men and women of faith have shown what is possible when we are guided by our hope and not our fear.”
We are in a time in history where once again the tides are shifting and fear is high. Something significant is happening-people can feel it and emotions are intense. Albert Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.” As a nation, if we really want to address the problem of our broken health care system, it will require a willingness from all of us to think differently: to ask different questions, to seek different solutions, to see ourselves and others with a new consciousness. What created the broken system we have? Power, greed, privilege, and an attitude of self-interest, just to name a few factors. What will it take to reform our health care system into a system where every American has accessible, affordable, and quality health care? If Einstein is right, it will require a new way of thinking-a way of thinking that believes that the 3% of the population is just as important as the 97% of the population; that in giving we receive; that in losing our life we find life; that in everything we should do to others as we would have them do to us; and that we should love our neighbor as ourselves.
“Time and again, men and women of faith have shown what is possible when we are guided by our hope and not our fear.” It is time to put that hope to work. It is time! It is time!