June 27, 2021 - Sermon - Rev. Mark Simone

Sermon Text

Healing Graces

 Healing is a sticky thing to talk about. It comes loaded with presumption, hope, and skepticism. The idea that God can actually bring healing changes to our minds, bodies and spirits is intriguing. However, often in our logical, show-me-to-make-me-believe world, miracles sound suspiciously like wishful thinking and healing is often overlooked or simply dismissed.


    We have come to such a marvelous time in medical development that often the knowledge and care of medical teams is equated to all types of healing. And to be fair, from day one of my liver transplant, I have given accolades to the many doctors and nurses who provided me this miracle of science and medicine. Was God in the mix? Absolutely. And I thank God for the masterful work my medical team accomplished. 21 years now.


    One line of belief is that healing ended when Jesus resurrected from the dead. Given the ultimate healing in resurrection, that miraculous action was replaced, some say, by Christ’s care for us in other ways – like his presence or by the Holy Spirit. That is one point of view. Here are some others:


    Last week a dear friend told me that perhaps the ongoing problems with my health was some problem with my faith. Believe, be healed, she told me with kindness and love. I took no offense as her deep care was evident, even though I don’t subscribe to her perspective. To her thinking, it could never be that God sustained me in other ways or that healing was yet to come from God’s loving hand. It was a flaw in my faith.


    Many years ago, my friend, Fran quit wearing her glasses and said to our church group that she was going to believe God for a healing of her eyes. She had read the Bible front to back on this subject and was going to claim and walk in her healing. Quietly, she slipped her glasses back on a couple of weeks later.


    45 years ago, Kathy and I went to the meeting of a famous American faith healer. He was one of those who did not lack in showmanship, and he lined the soon-to-be-healed up in the front or the stage in a row and quickly moved down the aisle and slapped foreheads like he was giving high fives. The “newly healed” were caught by ushers and placed on the floor just in time to catch the next person. I went down to the second call for those seeking healing. I was just beginning to show symptoms of what developed into the auto-immune disease that required I have a liver transplant. Once in line, I noticed that our healer was slamming these folks, mostly elderly, on their foreheads and literally knocking them over. I stood erect as he slapped my head and I belligerently remained standing. After the service he announced to the 400 plus attendees that we were not healed because we had no belief in the healing power of Jesus so he, the miracle worker, was prevented in bringing success because of all of us. Convenient.


    Some years later I attended an Ernest Angely healing service in Akron. One of my best friends promised his grandfather that he would take him because gramps had always wanted to see people get healed.  I excused myself during the four-hour service to use the bathroom. An elderly man who had come to the church from Wisconsin with his wife told me came to receive his healing. As he told me that God has healed his deafness, I was a bit surprised that he could not hear the feedback squealing of his hearing aids. He did not seem to hear my questions. During that service they received four offerings – about one an hour.


    In a different vein, in a class that I attended made up of all UCC students who were in seminary – it was a polity class I believe, the pastor who was leading us came with a report that one of his congregants had been rushed to the hospital and was direly ill. He asked us to not only pray but be in attendance with him as we went to visit the hospitalized man. We were confused as to what he meant, and he told us that he wanted us to visualize, in prayer, in our minds and spirits, our group visiting this man at his bedside and praying for his healing. We did. He led us to see the man, the hospital room, and to visualize us together as a group. He asked us, in prayer, to tap into what the man was feeling – fear, uncertainty, confusion, the pain of his illness. We prayed rather fervently for a complete healing of his body. We prayed in this fashion for about 15 minutes, and then we talked about UCC policies for the next 100 hours – or at least, that is what it felt like.


    The next week he came to class with a report on the man. The bottom line – the man was healed in such a way that his doctors could not explain it. He was simply better and unexpectedly left the hospital after a couple of days. There was no longer evidence of anything to treat. Before the man was released, his pastor, our teacher, went to visit him in the hospital. The man, who was already feeling great, said he had the strangest dream. He was surrounded by people in his hospital room who were praying for his healing and God was answering their prayers.


    A former seminary professor at Ashland Theological Seminary, where I attended, Dr. Richard Dobbins, told us in a Pastoral Care class that any church that held a regular healing prayer ministry would see enough actual healing to keep faith in the healing ministry and be a witness to God’s continuing work in healing among us today. He believed that prayers for healing were successful enough to establish that God does, in fact, heal bodies spiritually, emotionally and physically. He pressed the physical, saying that for healing to be healing and not just the good feelings we get when we are supported by our friends, had to happen in way that can be seen and measured. God intervenes in our bodies. God heals bodies physically.


    And then there is Jesus.


    In today’s scripture lesson we find Jesus engaging in an unintentional healing as he is walking to do a healing with another person. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus had just performed a successful exorcism of a non-Jewish person. In our passage, Jesus returns to the “Jewish” side to find a large crowd. This speaks of the universality of Christ’s acceptance to all people. Despite earlier stories in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus was not opposed by all Jewish leadership.  Jairus was a good example.  He sought out healer Jesus to assist his daughter.  Then, Jesus’ path to Jairus’ house was interrupted by a crowd. Jesus was moving through when an unnamed woman, approached Jesus. She sort of snuck up on Jesus secretly — unlike the Jarius who was a religious leader and openly engaged Jesus. The socio-religious dynamics of the day would not allow such a commoner, who was also a woman, to be involved or present when part of the religious echelon was in attendance.  Mark wants to show these two distinctive accounts juxtaposed against each other.  This was a bold woman, who covertly approached Jesus without a male sponsor, which was standard practice. And because she had hemorrhages of blood, her condition was an “impurity” under Levitical law. She potentially could have been removed from her religious community. She may not have had a choice but to act daringly. We are told she has suffered under the care of her medical community. She had only Jesus to turn to. All other avenues were exhausted. 


    One Bible commentator noted that other women throughout history, have had to act in this manner to retain their human dignity.  Phyllis Wheatley, the first African-American woman to publish a book of poems, did so under the scrutiny of Thomas Jefferson, Immanuel Kant, and numerous other white intellectuals of the day. It was her only avenue to publish. Minister Jarena Lee was the first authorized female preacher in the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, and thus, the first woman preacher in America. Born into a free black family, Jarena first heard the voice of God commissioning her to preach the Gospel in 1807. She began fulfilling her God-given call to preach in 1819 and continued to preach until her death around 1857. In our time and memory, Mother Rosa Parks just would not give up her seat. And our unnamed woman in Mark believed that if she just touched Jesus, robe, she would be healed.


    The woman understood the changes in her body just as Jesus recognized a change in his body. Jesus played no active role in her healing, but she knew it was done.  


    Strangely, not even Jesus understood what had just happened.  He asked who had touched him as he was surrounded by the adoring crowd. She identified herself. Jesus commended her for her faith. He then moved on to Jarius’ daughter, who, while awaiting the arrival of Jesus, had died. Jesus tells the father to believe and not fear and presses on ahead to heal the child.


    I read some time ago about an article in the AARP magazine that talked about what is called A Cuddle Party. Now, I say I read an account of the AARP article because I am too young to get the magazine myself. This is called denial.


    Anyway, have you heard of these parties? Two relational therapists discovered that there is currently a huge amount of touch deprivation in our society due to the pandemic. I can spare you the details about the effects of social distancing because each of us has lived through them these past 15 months. People are stopping to consider the important therapeutic benefits of touch.


    One pastor noted the longing in his congregation to be touched as his church reopened. A widow in his church commented that “That is the only hug I get all week” after he gave her a hug after service. She was grateful. There is healing in touch.


    Jesus’ life, along with his death, grants life-changing healing.  It is a healing authority that crosses boundaries, both ethnic and gender. Jesus chooses not to leave people in the conditions in which he finds them.  And he has the power to alter that condition.


    What about us as part of the People of God. What about Federated Church? What about you? Do we believe that the Christian community can alter the conditions of people’s lives?  Can we bring healing into troubled circumstances? Do we believe God enough to be open to physical healing that changes bodies? I do, and I have gratefully experienced God’s healing touch in my life numerous times. Physical healing. But that is for another time.


    Further, can we embrace our world enough to cross boundaries — whether they are related to ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation, politics or any other boundaries that divide our society? Can we offer and advocate for life-giving meaning and change? I think we are a church that has always had a vision of being world changers. More stories for another time.


    Friends, we all need to shift in whatever paradigm holds us back as individuals and as a church. It is time to renew our healing commitments to our family, our church, our world, and our community. May God grant us the courage to do so!