Sermon delivered on Sunday, Trinity 17B, September 30, 2012, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.
Lectionary texts: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22; Psalm 124.1-8; James 5.13-20; Mark 9.38-50.
As we began this month of September we heard in the Gospel reading from Mark, the 7th Chapter, two stories of healing – both radically different.
In the first case, we have a mother pleading with Jesus to free her daughter from a demon. It may be useful that we understand that to free one from a demon can be understood in that time to mean either an actual satanic being or some other disorder that today we might describe in more scientific terms like depression or paranoia.
In this first situation, Jesus just speaks the word and the child is healed and delivered. Simple, direct and no fan fare.
In the second case, a deaf man is brought to Jesus for healing. He cannot hear and as a result even his speech is effected. Jesus, in what must have been very dramatic gestures, places his fingers into the man’s ears, spits and then touches the man’s tongue calling out : “Be Opened.”
The Scriptures are full of stories like these. It seems that wherever Jesus went, people were being brought to him or came on their own to be made whole.
They came to be restored. Jesus did restore them to physical health, but he did more – he restored them in relationships – to their community and to their God.
We have the story of the Woman with the Bleeding Problem in Luke, the 8th Chapter, who sought out Jesus – hoping that by touching his garment she might experience relief from a burden that caused her pain for many years and the
10 Lepers who sought Jesus to be freed from their illness. For these, the healing given by Jesus restored them not only physically, but it also restored them to a life in the community, for in those days, a bleeding problem or a skin disorder, would mean that you would have to keep to yourself – you were a social outcast but even more – such people were denied access to the Temple and Temple Worship – they were being denied an important opportunity to have a relationship with their God. Jesus healing restored them to that relationship.
These healings performed by Jesus are often described as some of the signs and wonders by which he could be understood as the Messiah or a foretaste of the Messianic Reign.
For me, I see these as Signs of the greatest healing of all – the healing of the broken relationship between mankind and God. These healings gave a hint of the love that the Father wanted to show his people, of how He wanted them to be freed from their personal burdens, how God wanted his people restored in community with one another, and how our Creator wanted to renew his relationship with his Creation.
In today’s second reading from James, the 5th Chapter, we see that the early church understood that healing had a regular place within the Life of the Believers.
James, in today’s New Testament reading, lays out a particular practice of having those in need of healing coming to the Elders who would then pray for them and anoint them with oil.
The anointing of the ill with oil may have been a common practice in those days, but with this early community of Christians it went beyond the merely physical.
This anointing is seen not only as useful for physical healing, but spiritual as well freeing the person from sin and restoring them to wholeness – a renewal in their relationships in the community and with their relationship with God.
The actions of the Elders of the Church were perceived as a work not only of God but that of the whole church expressed through its ministers. It was the whole church that sought healing for those needing prayer and anointing. This practice has continued in the Church through the years, in various forms, until this very day.
The Practice of Prayer and Anointing however, is not the only way that the Church is a Healing Church.
As Jesus used a variety of forms and styles of healing ,some simple and others dramatic, so the Church has always used a variety of healing forms. Some very formal in ritual and others that are not the least bit formal – in some cases just a simply spoken word or a touch.
In the Sacrament of Eucharist we are not only spiritually fed but also brought into the presence of the one who is the great healer; we receive not only spiritual nourishment, but the Eucharist is a tremendous source of spiritual medicine, that can bring both physical healing and spiritual as well. In the practice of confessing our sinfulness, whether individually or corporately, we can experience the forgiving love of the Father and with such forgiveness often emotional and spiritual healing and sometimes even physical healing is experienced.
When sisters and brothers speak an encouraging word to one in need – physically, emotionally or spiritually – there is Christ’s healing touch. Not only does it ease the immediate burden, but it assures them of the Love of God.
When we encourage someone to seek professional care when fear or anxiety makes them hesitate, or when we provide needed transportation for them, we are like those who brought the deaf man to Jesus that he might experience healing.
When we visit someone confined to a nursing or retirement home, we often bring healing in the form of distraction from physical pain or loneliness but in that ministry we also make tangible the presence of our Lord
When we hold a brother or sister up in prayer, it can be in formal intercession or just because we have been asked personally to keep them in prayer or because we simply know their need, there too is the healing touch of our Lord.
How do we see or experience this healing. In many ways it looks like the healings that we are most familiar with in the area of medical science.
First the person needs to become aware that he or she needs healing. Sometimes this happens when there is great pain or loss of function so that they seek out the medical doctor or dentist. So it is that often times people only seeking healing within the Church when their pain, whether physical, spiritual or emotional, become so great that they are forced to seek healing wherever it can be found. Some times we seek professional help because of a problem, which while not extreme, is chronic. The cough or headache or backache that just won’t go away. Likewise we can and should seek healing in the church with those things that are chronic problems especially when those chronic problem interferr with our relationships with others or with God.
Physicians know that many problems can only be treated by using several different medicines or different approaches to treatment. Often the person seeking healing in the Church needs to be encouraged to take advantage of several approaches, for example frequent reception of Communion, Prayer and Anointing, and seeking prayer from brother and sister in the Church.
Scientific medicine is not in conflict with the healing found in the Church. The two are complimentary. For example, scientific studies have shown that individuals being treated by modern medicine, but who also seek spiritual healing, have less pain and tend to recover quicker. It may be interesting that to know that the first hospitals and modern schools of medicine were the direct result of committed Christians or the institutional church itself.
Like physical medicine, the healing found in the Church can be slow and gradual requiring much time and effort or it can be instantaneous. Some people may be prayed with on a single occasion and experience relief immediately for others they may need to experience the long term care of the Church for many years to support them in their need.
Modern Medicine has its unexpected favorable results or remissions; the Church continues to have its Miracles. Not surprisingly for both medical science and the Church these occurrences are both unexplainable and rare.
Why some people experience miraculous healing and others do not is something we can never understand, but we need to accept that in God’s eternal plan he gives to his children that which they need.
There are three things that open one to the healing found in the Church. First, as Fr. Kevin pointed out in his homily that first week in September, that a living and active Faith is extremely important as is helps us to personally encounter the Lord of Healing. Through involvement in the Church and by study of the Scriptures and by living a life faithful to the teaching of Jesus, we are made aware of the desire of out Lord to bring healing the and opportunities to experience such healing.
The Second is humility – the realization that we are very limited and cannot do it by ourselves – that we need the help of others and that we need a relationship with God. It is in Humility that we get a real picture of ourselves. We get to notice that those parts of us that need to be strengthened it we are to fully be restored so that we can fully participate in the life of the Church Community and fully experience Christ’s love.
Third, we need courage. It is not easy to admit we need help. It can be very difficult for some to seek out the healing available in the Church whether to ask for formal prayer or to confide to others such a need. Courage it took for the Syrophoenican to beg of Jesus a healing for her child, even after He challenged her commitment. Had she not had courage strong enough to persist, what may have been the result, but she did have such courage. Courage will also allow us to risk seeking such healing in our lives.
Jesus appeared to place no restriction on those he would heal. Though his ministry was first and foremost to the Jews as God’s Chosen People. He still healed many who were not from that chosen group. He healed the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman, he healed the servant of the Roman Centurion and He healed the Samaritan Leper, the only Leper of the 10 who were healed, to return and give praise to God. So it is that the Church must offer its healing not only to those chosen to be part of it, but to reach out to others with the healing touch of Christ. We need to continually look for the opportunity to bring the healing Love of Jesus to all that we meet – that some experiencing that healing, may themselves return and give praise to the One who heals.
It should not come as a surprise that the Church continued a ministry of healing for the Church from its earliest days saw itself as the continuation of the physical presence of the Christ.
Jesus may no longer be physically walking the streets of the Holy Land or our Land, but His Body the Church is doing so. Jesus may not be physically performing acts of healing, but through his Church He continues to heal those in need. Amen.