James 5:13-16; Isaiah 61:1-3; Mark 2:1-12 and Acts 9:32-42.
We have had more Scripture in our service so far, and I have one more story from the Bible to read to you this morning: Acts 9:32-42…
Here Peter shows how we share in a power that Jesus commanded in his earthly ministry, healing the sick and raising the dead. Healing plays a vital part in the faith of Israel and the Church of Jesus Christ.
The pregnancy of Sarah in her agedness, and Hannah, and a whole list of other women suffering from childlessness.
The plagues against Egypt– how they passed over the captive Israelites.
Elijah’s raising of the dead.
Elisha directing Namaan to cure himself by dipping 7 times in the River Jordan.
Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones coming together… and tendons and flesh appearing on them and skin covering them, and breath entering them, and their coming to life and standing on their own two feet.
Most of Jesus’ miracles were healings. To be sure, some of them are to be taken figuratively, but reading the Gospels, can be there any doubt that the people he touched experienced his power to extend even to their physical ailments and broken bodies?
Curing Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever.
Freeing the Gerasene Demoniac and the Syrophonecian woman’s demon-possessed daughter.
Healing the woman with a flow of blood.
Curing leprosy, epilepsy and different sorts of emotional distress and mental illness.
Making the lame to leap and the dumb to proclaim God’s glory.
Giving sight to the blind and unstopping the ears of the deaf.
Setting paralyzed bodies back in motion, restoring shriveled limbs.
At his arrest, re-attaching the ear of the High Priest’s servant that Simon Peter had severed with his sword.
Raising Lazarus, and the widow of Nain’s son, Jairus’ daughter, and another official’s son.
In “pre-medical times,” healing was soley the sphere of religion. Hence the etymological connection of healing, wholeness and holiness.
But somewhere in the ascent of science, much of the church lost faith in the power of healing. Or faith’s efficacy in physical healing and the care of the body. I thought a lot about this last fall, as a friend was dying, a very rational person whose faith was strong enough to believe that God could heal, cure her. It was interesting to watch as she balanced and struggled and finally reconciled that her fate was not to survive.
Perhaps, the dichotomy that emerged between science and religion has much to do with our faith’s discomfort with and downplaying of bodies as it does with science usurping religion’s healing power.
But also, along the line, the faith community began to “job out” the ministry of healing. Maybe this was the beginning of religion’s recognition that medicine was taking over. Still remember that the invention of hospitals in the West are essentially a Christian accomplishment. So I’m not trying to undercut or devalue the work of our doctors and nurses and medical institutions. Let no one hear me suggest that medicine is less than a ministry and of God.
But I am grieving that the mainline church has gotten so far away from the ancient sacrament of healing.
Not that I’m advocating faith healing a la Benny Hin or Christian Science a la Mary Baker Eddy. Instead, I have suggested in this sermon series that prayer is staying in communication with God about ALL of our lives, trusting in that connection to make a difference.
So today, I’m pushing us a bit. No, don’t stop seeing your cardiologist. Don’t refuse to take need medication. Or skip your check-ups. Don’t try to substitute prayer when you need psychotherapy.
But, likewise, why not also pray about all these too? Pray for my blood sugar and your sister’s cholesterol. Pray for the folks going through cancer treatments. And for those with HIV. Pray for Georgie recovering from pneumonia and pleurisy. And for Kristen recovering from childbirth. For Harvey after his recent hospitalization and for Jim that his g.i. problems are over.
I suspect that faith’s connection to healing may not be linear or direct or causal enough to survive epistemological scrutiny. We can’t always see the healing effects of our prayers; we easily begin to doubt them. Especially when, ultimately, no matter how much we pray, everyone still dies.
Still, today, I want to ask you today to suspend your disbelief. To trust, even act if you can’t quite believe it, as if our prayers can heal our various ailments. That prayers can mend our physical brokenness and knit back together anything that is separated or cut off.
Beloved, God’s plan, God’s works of salvation, are to restore wholeness and health and holiness to the earth and all who dwell therein. God promises to bring us to a joy that is possible in this world– that fullness, wholeness, completeness, integrity that wells up in our bodies and souls as life abundant, here and now and eternally.
Sins are forgiven. Bodies are made whole. Relationships are mended. Peace is restored. Death is indeed vanquished.
Jesus, quoting Isaiah, proclaimed first in Capernaum, but proclaims to us here today too:
The eternal purpose of God, even now being fulfilled, in places like this, among people like you, when we answer God’s call and are anointed for ministry, is that we as a community of believers, and as individuals too, each as God gifts us, can proclaim good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners. We are called to proclaim the time of God’s favor and of his judgement and to comfort those who mourn and provide for those who grieve.
Even people whose bodies are completely well, who can come and go where they want, can be captive in mind or heart or soul. Can be bound to fear or anxiety or despair. Or mourning the loss of a person dear to them. Or the loss of their trust in God’s care and goodness towards them or those who they love.
There are others knotted up in addictions and dependencies. Or weighed down by sin, their own or the sins others have committed against them. Sins they have not been able to forgive. People needing some inner healing, inner peace, inner wholeness.
And there are those who do indeed have need of physical restoration. Those whose bodies are broken or diseased or failing.
Church, we are called to minister to all these with the good news of God’s love and redeeming power. Like the friends who brought the paralytic to Jesus, we are called to bring to God those in need of healing. Or maybe we are to bring God to them. That we may allow God to give them all that has been promised.
In a minute, we will turn to God in prayer, where, as Isaiah says, we are called to a crown of beauty, instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise, instead of despair.
You may come forward for special prayer for healing if you wish. But, realize beloved, we can’t do anything ourselves. God does it on account of our need and out of God’s love for each of us.
We need only trust and believe in God. Trust for ourselves. Maybe even trust for those who cannot yet trust in God.
Of course, it’s not only prayer that is asked of us. We are to also help answer the prayers we make. If we pray for bread for the poor, we must also share the bread from our table. If we pray for the healing of cancer, it is also for us to tend to healthier ways of life and to support the healers among us. If we pray for the healing of our environment, we too must change our ways and do our part.
Beloved, I have seen God provide for the poor– bringing groceries and leaving money when the only hope that person had was what they offered up in prayer.
I’ve seen the person who was not supposed to live survive and celebrate life.
I’ve seen people who thought they could never really, deeply believe, uncover or be given a faith with which they needed never afterwards to turn back.
I’ve watched as people at the end of their lives find a deep peace at last with themselves and even restoration with families they’d been our of relationship for years.
God’s will is to make us whole. To heal our whole world. And to lead us all in the ways of holiness. That we might separately and together be witnesses and ministers in God’s name. That God’s word might be fulfilled in our time and among us. Amen.