No Joy For You

Rev. Deborah Patterson
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Text: Isaiah 61:1-3

From The Healing Word: Preaching and Teaching Health Ministry, Deborah L. Patterson (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2009).  Used with permission.

Good tidings I bring to you, of great joy.

Well, Joy for Jay.  Jay Grinney, that is, the CEO of HealthSouth, a for-profit hospital chain.  Jay earned $2.6 million dollars during 2006 in total compensation, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. That’s $1266 an hour.

Even more joyful was Michael B. McCallister, the CEO of Humana, Inc., a healthcare insurance company.  He received $5.8 million in compensation that year. That’s almost $2800 dollars per hour.

But Michael is not as joyful as Trevor Fetter, CEO of Tenet Healthcare Corporation, who received 9.5 million.  That’s more than 4500 dollars per hour, nearly double what Michael McAllister made.

Even better news for Jay, Michael and Trevor are that these figures were reported under a more modest method the SEC now uses for calculating executive pay.  If they were still reporting the way they did in 2005, their combined take would have been calculated closer to $22 million.

Now, let me tell you about Helen and Bob.  They are members of a small church in a small rural community in Southern Indiana.  Bob worked at a small factory near their home, and planned to retire at 65.  At about age 60, Bob was diagnosed lung cancer, despite having never smoked.  That was a chilling diagnosis, but they Helen and Bob both had the comfort of knowing that they had good health insurance through his union job.

What Bob and Helen didn’t know was that Bob’s treatment would quickly run up costs beyond the limits of the policy.  Soon Helen faced not only the prospect of Bob’s dying, but also the probable loss of her home to bankruptcy.

It was only because Bob’s physician was married to one of the most tenacious parish nurses known to humankind that the hospital billing department agreed to write off the overrun to “charity care.”  Helen lost her husband, but she is still living in her home.  Good news of great joy?  Well, maybe.

Dr. Jim Kimmey, President and CEO, of the Missouri Foundation for Health, one of the countries largest health foundations, calls underinsurance healthcare’s dirty little secret.  Well, it certainly is ONE of them. Congress is still stalling on extending the Children’s Health Insurance Plan for states.  Even if it is extended at the current funding levels, there will be cuts because of the increase cost of healthcare.  So the nine million children in America who are currently uninsured may soon have the company of even more little boys and girls.

But, only in America, for it is the only developed country in the world that does not provide quality medical care to all its citizens.  It is the only developed country without an emphasis on preventative care.  The only developed country in the world that does not recognize the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which states in article 25.1 that   “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Friends, let’s look back at our text.  It comes from the time when the Judeans were returning home from their captivity in Babylon, about 2500 years ago.  Attributed to a follower of the Second Isaiah, this text from the Third Isaiah addresses people who had undergone tremendous struggle.   The writer affirms, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted.”  It is also the text used in Luke 4 to show us that Jesus, too, was a prophet who cared about the restoration of his people.

Babylonian captivity.  I believe we are there again, both literally and figuratively. We are literally in Babylon as American troops serve in an unending war in Iraq, the new name for that land. And, working with parish nurses, daily I hear stories which attest that we are figuratively being held captive by a health system that excludes millions, bankrupts millions, and keeps millions in jobs they despise but need for health insurance.  Doctors are held captive by reimbursement plans that penalize them for spending more than 7 or 8 minutes with patients.  Nurses are held captive by staffing patterns that keep them working longer shifts, with more and sicker and patients to care for.  Churches are being held captive by health insurance costs that prevent them from being able to call full-time pastors.

Yes, the writer of this Scripture was ANOINTED to bring good tidings to the afflicted.
SENT to bind up the brokenhearted,
URGED to proclaim liberty to the captives,
MANDATED to open the prison for those who were bound.

As was Jesus.
As are we.
We are…

ANOINTED to comfort all who mourn,
SENT to bring the oil of gladness,
URGED to give a garland instead of ashes.
MANDATED to wear a mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

So, let me tell you some good news.  It is about a Christian who felt called to bring healing to his community.  Tommy Douglas was born in Scotland in 1904 and moved to Canada six years later. As a boy, he suffered a leg injury that required surgery.  His family was unable to afford the cost of the operation, so he faced probable amputation of his leg.  A physician agreed to perform the operation without charge as a chance to teach his students about the procedure.

Later, Tommy became a Baptist pastor in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, where he saw members of his congregation fall prey to the same financial barriers to care.  Rev. Douglas felt that it was his role as a Christian to bring access to healthcare to all.  He became active in politics, and eventually became the Premier of Saskatchewan. Through his leadership, universal healthcare became in his province in 1962 and four years later in all of Canada.  This achievement was over the searing opposition of those with a stake in the healthcare status quo.

Tommy was recently voted the “greatest Canadian of all time.”  He brought good tidings to the afflicted, the oil of gladness, and a mantle of praise.  The Rev. Thomas Clement Douglas, along with many other church members and community leaders, proclaimed liberty to the captives.

Friends, we too are made for liberty, not for captivity.  We are made for courage, not for despair.  We live in a land full of people looking to Starbucks for sustenance, not to the Savior for vision and hope.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the son of God appear,
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.

The Church, my friends, bring good tidings every day, through their news services and through their presses.  The Church brings good tidings through support for new ministries and new congregations.  The Church brings good news through ministries of healing and wholeness, around the country, and around the world.  And together, my friends, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  So let us look again to the coming of Christ for this new day, for our own time, for the challenges of our day.

Thanks be to God.  Amen and amen.

This sermon is part of a new series compiled by the NC Council of Churches in conjunction with our lectionary-based worship resource Acts of Faith.  We believe that issues of peace and justice can be expressed in the worship life of congregations, and we remain committed to providing accessible and relevant resources to make this a reality.  This sermon was used with the permission of the author, and the views expressed in it are solely the author’s. Please contact us if you are interested in submitting one of your sermons for consideration.

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