I’d like to introduce you to a old friend – a friend I have recently abandoned. My comb. Mother says grooming is important and I think I will part my hair on this side-
Our scripture lesson today concerns the healing ministry of Jesus, and it raises some interesting questions for we who are Christians in year of our Lord, 2009. From, the Gospel of Mark:
Mark 1:29-39 (New Century Version)
Jesus Heals Many People
29 As soon as Jesus and his followers left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon Peter and Andrew.30 Simon's mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever, and the people told Jesus about her.31 So Jesus went to her bed, took her hand, and helped her up. The fever left her, and she began serving them.
32 That evening, after the sun went down, the people brought to Jesus all who were sick and had demons in them.33 The whole town gathered at the door.34 Jesus healed many who had different kinds of sicknesses, and he forced many demons to leave people. But he would not allow the demons to speak, because they knew who he was.
35 Early the next morning, while it was still dark, Jesus woke and left the house. He went to a lonely place, where he prayed.36 Simon and his friends went to look for Jesus.37 When they found him, they said, "Everyone is looking for you!"
38 Jesus answered, "We should go to other towns around here so I can preach there too. That is the reason I came." 39 So he went everywhere in Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and forcing out demons.
Not long ago I was in the driveway of a member of our church who has since died. I was about to visit and became overwhelmed with the understanding that we would soon lose this precious saint. I knew death was coming and there were no illusions of a rescue in the last hours. I sat in the driveway and cried, asking God, “Where are the miracles? Where is the healing?” It was verses like this one in Mark that prompted my question and fed my anguish.
For most of the Christian era, over these last 2000 years, the idea of healing was strongly intact within the realm of church expectations. For many denominations, healing is still treated as something regularly practiced and expected. For other Christian groups, healing has been relinquished to something not understood and almost ignored. In fact, I had a discussion with one of our own UCC pastors from a church out of our area, in which the statement was made by this man that, “I really don’t believe in physical healing, but I believe in prayers and healing services.” I challenged that statement, for I knew that the pastor held regular spiritual healing service in his church. He would pray for sick people regularly and visited hospice facilities where he was know for his prayers of healing. I asked how he could be involved with a healing ministry and confess to not really believing in healing. His reply, “Well, I guess I believe in the kind of healing that death brings. Death can be very healing.”
OK, yeah. Maybe. I guess I can see that and agree to a point, but this is not the healing that Jesus exhibited in his ministry. As we read, the people Jesus ministered to were restored. And, I am betting that the people who attended the healing services at my friend’s church were expecting to be restored as well, not given last rites.
In my own complicity, I find that I am cautious when praying for those friends of mine who are not doing well. I hedge my bets and pray for God’s will to be done in these bodies. I seem to shirk from asking God for a divine miracle and intervention.
Some say that healing has faded because we live in such a time of medical miracles. And I have to admit that I am the recipient of many aspects of the medical glories of our day. The liver I received in transplantation in 2000 was an almost impossible operation in 1990 – just 10 years before my successful transplant occurred. In 1990 there was a 30% success rate in liver transplants. It was considered the most difficult of all human surgical procedures. And the rate of survival after a successful transplant was just over 50%. By 2000 a new drug had been discovered and moved the dismal statistics of 1990 to a statistic of 2 deaths in 5000 on the operating table and survival in the mid-90 percentile. That is miraculous and thousands have received a new life, just as I did. So, medical advances have given us some reason to reconsider the topic of healing.
Yet, scripture is strongly weighed in favor of miraculous, physical healing, not just from the hand of Jesus, but from the disciples and apostles of the church. Healing was expected.
Church spiritual writer and historian, Morton Kelsey, sites a decline in the discussion of healing that corresponds with the love of science that the western world developed around the turn of the 19th century. A new century was greeted by advances in science on every front, from physics, to the development of psychology, to all aspects of medicine, things mechanical, and nearly every human function seemed to be enhanced by science. Oddly, research during war times gave birth to enormous scientific advances following WWI and WWII. Science was our new cure-all. And for many, it effectively replaced a need for the spiritual. By the end of the 1950’s there was a marked decline in worship attendance in the US as the focus on science rose. Every school child learned the scientific method as THE means to solve every problem. Science was becoming the new divine, the new all powerful.
And, in fact, science did bring lots of great changes to human life, especially in the realm of medicine. Look at the ways in which diseases were reduced or eliminated in the success stories of polio and tuberculosis. So we then face a quandary, a conflict between the science we have lived with and under, and the presentation of healing in scripture along with the documented presence of healing in the church over the centuries.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not slamming doctors, nurses, med technicians or anyone who trains so long and works so hard to bring health to the ill. Again, I am a frequent recipient of medical blessings as my recent months of chemo and my new stitches so loudly proclaim! And I have had great interactions with so many doctors over the years.
I’ll never forget the time I went to my doctor after a head injury and asked:
Patient: Doctor, what does the X-ray of my head show?
Doctor: Absolutely nothing!
Patient (to surgeon): Will it hurt me, doctor?
Surgeon: Only when you get my bill, Rev. Simone.
I went to my dentist with problems with my teeth.
Patient: Doctor, I have yellow teeth, what do I do?
Dentist: Wear a brown tie! I went with gold today.
I walked into my doctor's office.
Patient: Doctor, people ignore me.
And a friend, seeking to lose some of his excess weight, visited his doctor.
John: Doctor, do you know how can I lose twelve pounds of ugly fat?
Doctor: Of course! Cut your head off.
Nurse: Doctor, there is a man in the waiting room with a glass eye named Brown.
Doctor: What does he call his other eye?
Yet, here is the rub. What do we do with this prevalent teaching of healing in the Bible?
From Exodus 15:26 where God declares, “I am the Lord who heals you” to “I will bring health and healing…; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security.
Jeremiah 33:6 And we have this to remember, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
In 1 Corinthians 12:8 it talks about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and Paul tells us that some receive “…faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit.”
1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits- 3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
I found well over 200 references to health and healing in my scanning for the above verses. And all aspects of healing were covered, our diseases, our emotions, our relationships, even our planet. Yet, we rarely discuss healing as something alive and viable that is expected among us.
While in seminary, I had a professor who brought up the topic of healing with our group. I was finishing my MDiv in Pastoral Psychology and Counseling and interning at Southwest General Hospital in Middleburg Heights, so healing was something we talked about lots. But again, even as students of healing, we were perplexed by what seemed to be a lack of actual healing. After the professor reiterated what we already knew – that there were lots of kinds of healing, including a good death, or resolving that one will live with illness, or the intervention of medicine, he said it is always important for the church to remember its responsibility to also be a vehicle of healing. Then he said a very interesting thing. He said that in his many years as a pastor, he found that the churches that had regular healing service, in which physical healing and restoration was prayed for, believed for and practiced; those churches always had some level of healing occur in their congregations. With no predictions, no rhyme or reason, God does sometimes heal in a miraculous way some of those who receive those prayers.
He also noted that churches too often get side tracked on the unanswerable questions, such as, why was this one healed and not others. We will never get comfortable with that. It is a mystery that only God can know. But the professor was determined that to not practice or expect healing because some are not healed is quite convoluted and violates God’s commission to the church through the words of Jesus when he said, “As you go, preaching saying, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the leper, raise the dead, cast out devils. And freely you have received, freely give.
Whoa professor. Those are some big expectations. Weren’t those words from Jesus for his day? Aren’t we more evolved and beyond that kind of street ministry? Doesn’t our health care make this commission obsolete?
I guess my own timid response is that as long as people suffer, it is our job, our sacred responsibility, to pray for the healing of our sisters and brothers, and to let them know we are praying for them.
And I commend you, Federated Church, for I have a basket in my home office stuffed with cards assuring me of your prayers for my healing of lymphoma. I have wrapped myself daily in my prayer shawl, and prayed, believing God’s word when God says, “I am the Lord who heals you.” I still wear the hats and cashmere scarves that friends have given me. And I have found great comfort, assurance, and even expectation through the support that you have, once again, given to me. At times I have sensed those prayers and believed that God was working in my body through you. And I am hopeful and even expectant that when I am tested on Wednesday, the news will be very good.
I am certain that Hamilton feels the same way, as do the others who have been so blessed by your prayers as listed in our Fellowship of Prayer. We are a praying church and we do actively pray for others.
My question for us all today is, however, are we seeing the healing? Is the Holy Spirit restoring us and making us whole as scripture holds up as being normal? And I really don’t know the answer. But what I do know is that today’s lesson from the Gospel of Mark holds some pretty powerful examples of what the ministry of Jesus accomplished. Often in our prayers and in testimonies and sermons we hear of healings being requested and that the expectation is that we be like Jesus, who was a great healer. What is the implication for each of us?
Well, I must admit that I don’t have any quick and easy answers, but I do think that the answers may somehow wrapped up in the part of the portion from Mark that we too often quickly overlook. Let’s quickly review:
Early the next morning, while it was still dark, Jesus woke and left the house. He went to a lonely place, where he prayed.
Jesus’ ministry came from a place where he challenged himself to be in communion with his Father. Jesus went off to work on the relationship that empowered him, sustained him and directed him. Jesus, the Son of God, slipped off at an inconvenient hour to a desolate place where he knew he would be along and talked to God. I am convinced it is here that the connections for healing are made, for immediately following, Jesus sets his sights beyond Simon’s neighborhood.
36 Simon and his friends went to look for Jesus.37 When they found him, they said, "Everyone is looking for you!" 38 Jesus answered, "We should go to other towns around here so I can preach there too. That is the reason I came." 39 So he went everywhere in Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and forcing out demons.
So Jesus wanted to spread the blessings around, and in doing so he taught his disciples to go and do likewise. And that spreading has continued down throughout the centuries, with healers being raised up by God in every generation.
I have no strong finish for this message. There is not conclusion or declaration, as this is a work in progress for us. I felt I needed to be faithful to the scripture for today, as well as faithful to you in sharing what I have shared this morning about a difficult topic. My hope and prayer is that we, as a church family and as individual believers, will begin to stand on these verses for healing and see what wonders God may accomplish among us. I see it not as a matter of faith, but of expectation and practice. Please prayerfully consider your place in God’s work of healing.
Now, because this was a heavy and difficult topic, let me end with this:
Top Ten Things You Do Not Want To Hear In Surgery
1. Don't worry. I think it is sharp enough.
2. Nurse, did this patient sign the organs donation card?
3. Darn! Page 84 of the manual is missing!
4. Everybody stand back! I lost a contact lens!
5. Hand me that...uh...that uh.....thingie
6. Better save that. We'll need it for the autopsy.
7. "Accept this sacrifice, O Great Lord of Darkness"
8. Whoa, wait a minute, if this is his spleen, then what's that?
9. "You know, there's big money in kidneys. Heck, he's got two of them.
10. Cell phone rings and you hear your surgeon say, “What do you mean You want a divorce?"