Now, Who took the Balm out of Gilead, and will you please put it back?

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This is your brain. This is your brain on chemo, on stress, on distraction, on grief, on hormones, missing hormones, missing sleep, just plain missing. I spend a lot of time looking for things. I’d like to say that is a recent phenomenon, driven by recent stress. It’s not. It’s as though they secretly exchanged a homing device for the placenta when my first was born. I’m the family finder. That’s kind of scary, if you know me. That doesn’t mean I know where everything is. That means I have the kind of picture thinking brain that carries around mental snapshots of rooms, and the things in them. And then someone comes in and rearranges things. Oops. Maybe that was me. One time, though, it wasn’t. Right after we were married, we invited the choir over for a party in our new house. We were busy fussing with preparations and last minute cleaning. I took out my electric skillet and put it on the counter when the doorbell rang. After greeting the guests, taking coats, etc. I came back to my electric skillet to find it……poof. Gone. I asked Jim if he knew where my electric skillet was. Blank stare. I looked frantically. No skillet. I rearranged menu plans. At the end of the evening, taking the trash to the garage, I found the skillet. It was on the roof of my car. I must have exclaimed something profound, (like Eurekos!) and brought it back in to show my groom. He looked at me blankly. “Here it is! My electric skillet!” The blank stare continued. “Is that what you were looking for? That’s a frypan. I didn’t know what you were talking about.” Where I come from, it’s a skillet. Where he comes from, it’s a frypan. What we have here is a failure in communication added to a recipe for losing one’s mind, and gently stir fried.

Jesus has a soft spot for people looking for lost things. We heard that in last week’s Gospel with the woman looking for her tiny lost coin, the shepherd looking for one lost lamb, then they threw parties they could ill afford to celebrate their discovery. Foolish people. Don’t they understand that sometimes things get so lost that it makes more sense to replace it than use up all your time and resources looking for them? And if that weren’t enough, Jesus compares himself to one of these foolish people, he’s so foolish for lost things.

Then there’s this week. Jeremiah 8. Whoever came up with that spiritual about the balm in Gilead didn’t have Jeremiah 8 staring at them. It’s not “There is a Balm in Gilead, to make the wounded whole/heal the sinsick soul.” It’s “Is there no Balm in Gilead?” Who took the balm out of Gilead? There’s supposed to be balm in Gilead. “Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” Some say that’s Jeremiah talking. But as I follow the “thus saith the Lords” it’s the Lord, Yahweh, talking. That or the Lord, Yahweh, blessed be the Name, was just rudely interrupted by Jeremiah, not so blessed be his name. There is supposed to be balm in Gilead. It’s where Jacob and Laban finally met to divide up the goods-I mean girls. It’s where David fled to bind up his wounded heart after his son Absalom took it out and walked on it, the son he was foolish for. There is supposed to be balm in Gilead, and it’s gone missing. And since it’s gone missing there aren’t enough springs, wells, rivers and oceans of tears enough to bring comfort for the Lord Yahweh, blessed be the Name, weeping for “my poor people.” People whose injuries have been lightly healed, dealt with a “that doesn’t hurt now” instead of a “There there, come here and lie in my lap.” The Lord, Yahweh, blessed be the Name, speaks with both anger and grief over the fate of “my poor people” and the balm of Gilead that has gone missing. “”They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying “peace, peace” when there is no peace. They acted shamefully, yet they were not ashamed, they did not know how to blush.”

Who took the balm out of Gilead? Idolators. Those who take on the role of God against their neighbors. Those who lift themselves up as though they were their own authority. Those who trample on the needs of the poor. Those who do not share Jesus’ tender heart for losers and their lost things, who prefer to be the sort of people who would never have lost the thing to start with. Why is there no balm coming from Gilead for them? They would never admit to being the kind of people who need no stinkin’ balm, they can fix it themselves. Fifteen chapters later, we find the balm. Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture, says the Lord Yahweh, blessed be the Name. You have not attended to my people, so I will attend to you. I myself will gather the remnants of my flocks and bring them back to their fold. I will raise up shepherds to shepherd them, and they shall not fear or be dismayed, NOR SHALL ANY BE MISSING….says the Lord, Yahweh, Blessed be the Name. The Lord, by the Lord’s own self, will bring healing balm back to Gilead. And not one will be missing.
Not one inactive member. Go smoke that. Not one who has been judged as unworthy. Go wallow around in that. Not one who has been written off. Go check that out. Not one. Not one. So what are you waiting for? Either you’re part of the party or you’re part of the problem. The widow has gone and spent all she had to throw this party. The shepherd risked all the 99 obedient and dutiful and upright sheep to bring this one foolish sheep back to the party. Let the tears flow and mingle with the tears of Yahweh, blessed be the Name, until they become tears of incredulity and laughter. Let the balm of Gilead mingle with the tears of the woman who, though she was a sinner, washed Jesus feet with them and anointed his feet with expensive ointment. Let the healing begin.


About Pastor Betsy Williams

I am a mom. And a wife. And a Friend. And a homeowner. And a dog ...uh....owner? Actually make that two dogs. Two kids. One husband. I'm an ELCA Lutheran pastor of a beautiful downtown church. I am the third senior pastor in a century, so my 10-12 years here may feel like an interim to some of the folks here. Recently I have had no spare time. In my spare time in the future, my imagination inhabits a novel I am writing, The Funeral Preacher. My primary blog is a personal reflection on the Revised Common Lectionary...mostly: "Not All Who Wander are Lost." A few years ago I was on a team of writers who produced a little book for Augsburg Fortress in the Washed and Welcome series called "Living the Promises." It's 101 ideas for helping parents and godparents nurture their children in the faith of their baptism. I am developing another blog, more about worship at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Newark, Ohio and including a summary of the past week's preaching. Otherwise, I imagine myself to be a musician, liturgical artist, cook in a five star restaurant where the patrons keep ordering chicken nuggets, but never a bottle washer. I know how to delegate and share.
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