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Preaching on the Health Care Issue
2009-08-27 by John Killinger
We preachers have usually sat in the back seat when it comes to national issues and let the politicians do the driving. But health care for the poor is a vital issue that ought to be as high on our agenda is it is on that of Congress and the White House. If we have any responsibility at all beyond that of being pastors to our flocks, it is to be mindful of the poor.
The lectionary Gospel for September 6, which I have suggested ought to be named National Health Care Sunday, is Mark 7:24-30. What could be more perfect a text for a strong sermon on caring for all of God's little ones? For Mark, this is a pivotal event, when the Syrophoenician woman pled her case for Jesus to heal her daughter and he refused because she was not a Jew. "Let the children be fed first," he said, "for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."
Wow! Is this Jesus, the Compassionate Leader of our faith speaking? Or was Mark setting him up for the woman's rejoinder? "Sir," she said, "even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."
In the health care debate, is this like saying, shouldn't the poor of our nation get at least minimal care under the law, even if it isn't as good as members of Congress and other government employees receive?
For Mark, the point is that the woman's argument becomes the fulcrum on which Jesus' future ministry is lifted into a new dimension and he goes to the Gentiles with his hope and healing. A few verses later, he feeds 4000 people in the Decapolis area--Gentile territory--just as a few verses earlier he had fed 5000 people on Jewish soil.
In our national life, this moment is like the epochal moment for Jesus: it can turn us from our selfish preoccupation with our own health care to a new generosity of spirit in which we make sure that those who can't afford what we have receive new assurances of medical assistance when they need it.
As preachers, we don't have to take sides in the debate about what kind of provision to make for the poor. But we are obligated by our calling, as followers of Christ, to demand help for them from our nation's legislators.
And if we all do it on the same Sunday, and let the legislators know we are doing it, we can have a real impact on the most important piece of legislation they will be dealing with when they return to Washington on September 15.
We may still be in the back seat, but we can at least make our voices heard when we say, "Turn here!"
The Reverend John Killinger, author of The Other Preacher in Lynchburg: My Life Across Town from Jerry Falwell (St. Martin's, 2009) and The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Harry Potter (Mercer Univ. Press, 2009)