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[Sermon] From Isolation to Liberation: Healing in Community

Pastor Hector Garfias-Toledo + January 28, 2024

Pastor Hector explores how trauma and the need for connection create tension in our lives, hindering authenticity and connection with God. He argues that Jesus and Paul offer not condemnation, but healing and liberation. We are called to build communities of solidarity and vulnerability, practicing authentic lives and accompanying others on their journeys of healing.


From automatically generated captions via YouTube, with punctuation and paragraphs added by ChatGPT.

Well, I think I'm going to leave my Band-Aids here for now, 'cause I may need them later. Grace to you and peace from God our creator and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our savior. And we said amen.

My dear brothers and sisters, my siblings in Christ, here we are again, another Sunday. Another Sunday after six days of experiencing life and hearing news—bad news and good news and worse news. Last Sunday, you and I were talking about what it means to live out the intrinsic Justice, the gift of justice that God has given us. We were reflecting on how, by leaving the ways that Jesus teaches us, justice flows. Justice tears down walls, and you and I can see each other. Justice becomes tangible through our actions.

But when we read passages like today's passage, I believe that you, like me, struggle with these healing stories. Because we know that even though we pray, we still lose our loved ones or see our loved ones in a bed in a hospital, in hospice, in a facility. I think that today's stories raise questions in our hearts because you and I pray for healing, and we still see people dying from illnesses. You and I pray for unity, and we still see divisions. You and I pray for peace, and we still see war and conflict.

So, as I was telling our young worshippers, I wonder if today's passages are more about the wounds that our society, our communities, our communities in our society, and in the individuals part of these communities—the wounds that are within us. The illnesses and traumas that disrupt our connectedness and our sense of identity. That disrupt our sense of identity of who we are and who we are. Maybe this is not so much about the external wounds that you and I experience but what is happening in our hearts.

You know, and I have shared with you that I have been reading and listening to podcasts and following Dr. Gabor Mate as he is talking about trauma. It has been a fascinating opportunity for me to learn about how we as human beings experience these traumas in our lives. The word trauma comes from the Greek, and it means wound or wounding. And you know what wounds are. A wound is sensitive. A wound needs to be treated. A wound sometimes cannot be touched. And when it is touched, it can trigger memories that bring back the pain.

But also, a wound—and I'm going to, for those of you who are in the medical field, probably know that I'm just butchering all the definitions and making things so shallow—but for the sake of this reflection today, I ask you for forgiveness and maybe to correct me if I'm wrong. But you know that when we have a wound, wounds scar. Scar over. The scar that grows in a wound is a protective response of our bodies. By scars or growing scars tissue, we protect. We heal. But a scar is not alive. A scar is a tissue that is not growing healthily. A scar has no nerves. A scar doesn't feel.

And if you think about this, when our lives are scarred, we tend to get stuck. We tend to get disconnected. We tend to feel isolated because trauma is not only what happens to us, as Gabor Mate would say, but it is what happens inside us. It's not so much about the bad that happened to us but the good that never happened in our lives and led us to live in this trauma, in this disconnection that leads us into addictions, in this pain. I mean, in this disconnection that leads us to mental illness or this pain that leads us to addictions.

In the end, my dear siblings, the biggest imp of trauma is that you and I are not able to live an authentic life. And I believe that Jesus and Paul in the passages that we read today address the wounds of the community, of the individuals, of the society that are caused by the structures of power that are inflicting this pain, that are inflicting this suffering in people. That's why I would like to invite you now to watch this video with me. It's about a four-minute video where Dr. Gabor Mate talks about authenticity and attachment and how this tension between living authentic lives and, at the same time, seeking this connection with attachment to others for healing is a challenge for us as human beings. He shares how not to be. How we are not able to live our authentic lives and how that affects us. And I invite you to reflect on our call as agents of healing and transformation in this community and how you, as I was telling the young worshippers, may see yourself in accompanying those who are experiencing trauma in their lives.

So, let's watch this video. And then I will come back with a few remarks on this video.

When a child is born, the child has two needs. The first need is for attachment. And attachment is contact, connection, love. Without that, the human child does not survive. Any mammalian child or even an avian child doesn't survive. So, that as soon as you get past the level of reptiles, the reptile is hatched, the mother's long gone by then. And the reptile infant either lives or dies. But there's no attachment to a parenting figure. As soon as you get to the level of birds, now the baby bird has to have an attachment with the parents. The parents have to be attached to the baby. Otherwise, the infant simply does not survive. Mammals even more so. And most so the human because we're the least developed, the least mature, with the least developed brains and the most dependent for the longest period of time of any creature in the universe. So, our attachment needs are enormous, and they remain important throughout a lifetime because we have to have attachments to form societies, social groups, without which we don't survive. So, attachment is a huge need. To be able to connect, belong, be loved by, and love. That's just a basic human need.
But we have another need as well, which is for authenticity. Authenticity is the capacity, as I said earlier, to know what we feel, to be in touch with our bodies, and to be able to express who we are and manifest who we are in our activities and in our relationships. Now, why is that? Well, think of a human being in an evolutionary period who's not in touch with their body and their gut feelings. How long do they survive out there in the wild? So, authenticity is another huge survival need. Great, so far, so good.
But what happens to a child where the attachment need is not compatible with the need for authenticity? In other words, if I'm authentic, my parents will reject me. If I feel what I feel and express what I feel and insist on my own truth, my parents can't handle it. And parents convey those messages unconsciously all the time. Not because they mean to, not because they don't love the child, not because they're not trying to do their best, but because they themselves are suppressed or traumatized or hurt or stressed. So, I convey that message many times to my children, believe me, without any conscious desire to do so. In fact, it was the very opposite of what I wished to convey, but that they're not acceptable the way they are with their emotions, the way they are. That's the message my kids got when they were small. And most children get that in our society.
Now, what does a child do with that? Well, if I give up my attachment for the sake of authenticity, I lose my relationships on which my life depends. Therefore, there's no question. What becomes suppressed is our authenticity, our emotions. And then we become 25 and 30 or 35, 40, and we don't know who we are. And somebody asks us, "What do you feel?" And you say, "I have no idea." And how many times we've all had the experience of having an inkling of a strong gut feeling, but we ignore it. We're ignoring it, and we get into trouble. Well, that tells us what happened. What happened was that at some point, we found out it was too costly for our attachment relationships to be in touch with our gut feelings. So, then it becomes our first, not our first nature, but our second nature to suppress our feelings, to lose touch with ourselves and to suppress our gut feelings. And then we pay the cost later on in the form of addictions, mental illness, or any range of physical illnesses.
But it all began with this tragic conflict that children should never be confronted with but are all the time between authenticity on the one hand and attachment on the other. And even as adults, so many people are suffering because they want to be themselves but are afraid to be because they know or at least they fear that if they are themselves, they're going to lose important attachment relationships in their lives.
[End Transcript]

If you think of what Dr. Mate says in terms of the connections, the attachment, and the importance of those aspects of our lives in our development and we think about our faith journey, I believe that in many cases, we experience the same thing. We are afraid to say what is in our God, in our hearts because we believe that we have a god that is going to reject us or leave us. Sometimes in our faith journeys, we feel lonely, we feel confined to the rooms where we are suffering from a fever that keeps us from those who God has given us.

So, I believe that as we reflect on the words of the Gospel today and the message that St. Paul brings to the people of Corinth, Jesus reminds us that God's reign of justice is the healing of the nations that brings life towards lives and restores the God-given dignity that we receive when God said, "You are mine. You belong. You are known. You are made whole."

The manifestation of justice is dignity, holiness, healing, restoration, openness to dialogue, learning from others, healthy tension that promotes growth and understanding.

Jesus was not healing all these people because Jesus wanted to create a social media brand as a healer, as a miracle worker, Jesus' movement, the church. You and me, each one of us, are called to let that justice roll and to work in the spirit to be a place where healing is experienced. As we build together a space to practice authentic lives, where we are able to speak out our hearts, where we are willing to listen to one another, where we are willing to touch and where we are willing to acknowledge our inner wounds. Jesus knows that we need a community of solidarity and resistance to the patterns that keep us individuals from being what God calls us to be, from going where God calls us to go and from doing what God calls us to do. And St. Paul tells us and reminds us that we are going to accompany people to build a relationship based on mutual healing by listening, by learning, and the willingness to be vulnerable towards one another as the only path and the intimate healing relationship he says in the passage that we read today. St. Paul says, "I enter their world and I try to experience things from their point of view." And in that way, they were able to live authentic lives.

In this quick, just two slides that I want to show you, slide number two is the traditional understanding of how we feel sometimes and maybe why we feel detached from Jesus and from the Lord. This idea that you and I live in sin and we need to cross the big gap between us and God and do everything that we can do so that we can reach God and finally experience the healing. But I think that Jesus and Paul tell us in the second slide what this gospel is actually about. It is that when you and I are laying in our beds in their rooms with a fever, it is the God who brings the order of life through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to rescue us, to heal us, to liberate us, and to save us. So that you and I can live the life that God intended for us with confidence that God comes to us to bring God's order of life and not the other way around.

Today, in a moment, we are going to commission Patty Wilder as one of our Steven Minister leaders. And the Steven ministry here at Trinity has been a strong ministry that continues to walk with people, to find people where they are, to listen and to grow together and accompany each other as an extension of God's compassion, the stream of God's justice and healing that is enacted by the presence that brings an ear and a voice and, most of the time, an ear, ears to listen and words of grace and encouragement. A journey of mutual healing and nurturing, a witness to the healing movement of the Lord who brings life to traumatized lives and scarred lives like ours. Thanks be to God because we know that in our rooms and in the loneliness and isolation, the Lord comes through others to heal us and liberate us.

Let's prepare now for the right of the commissioning of Patty Wilder as a Steven Minister.

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