Cynthia Weems: The difference between the church and Walgreens

How do we lead when modern medicine fails us? Prayer does work against demons, doesn't it?

Samuel showed up on a Wednesday evening about the time we were beginning our fellowship meal, insisting he and I sit at a table by ourselves. He told me that he was possessed by a demon that had plagued him for much of his life. Some of his family members experienced the same thing. He made a fist around his ear lobe, indicating the kind of excruciating pain it caused.

But then a smile appeared on his face. “Last week, when I attended your prayer service, the pain stopped. I felt a relief from it that I have never felt before.”

I was speechless (an oddity for me). “Really?” I asked, “Last week? At our prayer service?” I looked around to see if anyone was overhearing this conversation. My clergy ego told me to take pride. My modern mind told me to beware.

I proceeded in a very mainline Protestant kind of way by asking questions. “Have you seen a doctor?” He had, but to no avail. “Are you taking any medications?” No. “Are you experiencing stress?” Not particularly. “Have your family members ever felt relief from their pain?” He shook his head.

“Pastor, I have never tried church before. In all this time, I have never tried church. Will you pray for me again? My pain has returned but I remember what it felt like to have it lifted.”

There seemed to be an amazing clash of wills at work as Samuel and I sat together. His hope was met with my suspicion. Did he need Jesus or did he need a pharmacy? I wondered where all my skepticism came from. Was I tired? I had already spent significant time that week “fixing” things: an overdue water bill for one man, a needed prescription for a woman’s sick child, a new I.D. card for a homeless man. I began to think of Samuel’s situation as just another one to be fixed by human hands. Or, better yet, by Walgreens.

In Mark’s gospel we are told of a leper who came to Jesus begging, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Jesus, moved with pity, stretched out his hand to touch him and said, “I do choose. Be made clean!” (Mark 1:40-41)

Stories of Jesus’ “choosing” underlie the gamut of our faith. Over and over again Jesus chooses -- to heal, to cleanse, to listen, to pray, to proclaim. Jesus chooses to be in relationship in nearly every form that takes.

As leaders, the simple-yet-complex act of choosing is at the heart of what we do too. We choose to make ourselves available. We choose to listen. We choose to trust that the source of any solution lies not merely in our hands but in God’s, and the ways the Lord works in and through individuals and community for healing.

The modern pharmacy represents the best solution to many of our everyday crises. I am truly grateful one is located on nearly every corner in downtown Miami. But the availability of scientific “remedies” to everything from illness to anger often leads us further away from the One who chooses us. And we find even us leaders asking, “Really?”

It was refreshing to see the hope in Samuel’s eyes. “I’ve never tried church.” I am sure he had already been to Walgreens. As a Christian leader I am called to choose to sit with Samuel and pray for his healing while guiding him to scripture and practices of the Christian faith that I believe will bring wholeness to his being.

That is what I will choose.

Cynthia Weems is senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Miami, Florida.