Sermon- “ The Healing Ministry of Christ” by Rev. June Fothergill
Mark 1: 29-39
A very dignified pastor was visiting a lady in a nursing home who was confined to a wheel chair. As he stood to leave, the lady asked him to have a word of prayer. He gently took her hand and prayed that God would be with her to bring comfort strength and healing. When he finished praying her face began to glow. She said softly, “Pastor would you help me to my feet?” Not knowing what else to do he helped her up. At first she took a few uncertain steps. Then she began to jump up and down, and then to dance and shout and cry with happiness until the whole nursing home was aroused. After she was quieted, the solemn pastor hurried out to his car, closed the door, grabbed hold of the steering wheel and prayed this little prayer, “Lord don’t you ever do that to me again!” (p. 31 An Encyclopedia of Humor)
I laugh because I know sometimes God works in unexpected way with unexpected people. Healing is one of those areas of ministry. Especially today we often don’t expect prayer to have quite such quick and dramatic results! Yet, why not?
Certainly, Jesus is a healer. There is no doubt about it for anyone who reads the gospel accounts. Providing healing to those with illnesses and problems that kept them from a full life was one way he embodied the kingdom of God. He also empowered his followers to heal others too and they continued to do so after his death and resurrection. The ministry of healing thus is an important part of our Christian witness.
We have done it down through the ages by opening hospitals and clinics, working to eradicate diseases like malaria and praying for one another and offering anointing with oil. If someone is in the hospital, we like to know so we can visit and pray with that person. We like to offer condolences and help in times of grief and loss. We send cards and pray for those with health issues. And today we will offer a time for folks to come forward to receive or offer prayers and anointing for healing. We do this because we want to continue Jesus ministry of healing to a hurting world. We do it trusting that Christ’s Holy Spirit will move through our humble acts of caring and prayer to bring healing and hope to people. We realize that healing is a gift of God’s spirit not our own doing.
Yet, even so there is a mystery to God’s healing that we sometimes struggle with especially in our day of medicine and scientific explanations. Sometimes healing comes through modern medicine and science; sometimes it’s a mystery, even a miracle. And we wonder why healing comes when it comes and why it seems not to come no matter how hard we pray. Even in the story today it says Jesus healed many of the people by the door – not all the people. The ministry of healing reminds us of the mystery of God’s presence and work that we do not control nor completely understand. At core then healing invites us to trust and often times to let go of our idea of outcomes, to accept the gift that is given. For I believe that when we pray for healing, a gift of God is given. It may not be what we want or expect but with the eyes of faith we can see it.
Some people might wonder about all the miracle, healing stories in the gospel- did they really happen? How could that be? Some might want to dismiss them as just legends. Yet, these stories are not written to be proved or not. They are written for us to grow in our faith and learn about Jesus. Brian Mc Laren puts it this way, “Perhaps a miracle story is meant to shake up our normal assumptions, inspire our imagination about the present and the future and make it possible for us to see something we couldn’t have seen before…. Empower us to play a catalytic role in co-creating new possibilities for the world of tomorrow. “(p. 97 We Make the Road by Walking, NY: Jericho Books, 2014)
For example- would we have ever imagined a world with no malaria if we hadn’t started healing ministries in poor neighborhood and listened to the concerns and troubles of those folks? When I was in seminary I took a class on Healing Prayer. I wasn’t too sure about it but decided to pray for openness to where God wanted to heal me. I discovered a hurt in my childhood that was affecting my current relationships. After prayer that day, I no longer struggle with that particular relationship pattern. I trust Jesus answered my prayer for healing. The class opened me to the possibility that God still heals people today in many different ways.
Even so, I have wrestled with what it means to have a ministry of healing. I am not a doctor or a psychologist. I can’t heal in that way. I had a clergy colleague who had a gift of physical healing. Sometimes God would use her to touch someone and take away their pain or illness. I have never been given that gift of the spirit. I pray that sometimes my ability to listen well can be healing for people, but too often I don’t listen all that well. So, that does it mean to have a ministry of healing? Is it even possible? What does it mean for as a church to include healing in our ministry? Are we even called to do so?
This story in Mark gives us some ideas to ponder. The first thing I notice is that the disciples came to Jesus with the concern. Peter’s mother in law had a fever, apparently laid up in bed. She couldn’t come to Jesus herself, others had to bring him to her. Perhaps one of the ways we can all be part of a ministry of healing is to bring people to Jesus loving, healing presence. We do this through our prayer for people certainly. We also do it through our advocacy for healthcare for all people. And can we do so through offering safe places for healing presence to be experienced such as small groups or recovery groups or friendly visits with lonely persons.
I had a fellow talk to me the other night at our Monday meal about a grief ministry that he experienced when he went back to the Midwest when his mother died. He’d like to start one here because that ministry had given him some healing in his grief.
Secondly, I notice that Jesus took the woman by the hand and lifted her up and she was healed. His gentle healing touch brought her opportunity to get up and serve. A healing ministry is not just about curing diseases but about helping one another be renewed and strengthened for ministry. Perhaps this means letting people take time to rest, to take a break. Other times in may mean encouraging someone to trust in God’s presence in their lives, their ability to act and serve. Jesus knew that to serve well we need time for tending our souls. Sometimes we need a healing touch to ease our fever. Sometimes like him we need time alone to pray and connect with God. A healing ministry can include ways we help one another take care of ourselves in body and soul. At Sprout the other day I had a nutritionist offer the possibility of free nutrition classes at our church. Anyone up for a walking group or a zumba class or… Are next steps we want to take in caring for each other’s body and spirit?
Lastly, I am amazed at what happened at Peter’s house. At the end of the Sabbath, when the sun had set. Mark tells us, “The whole city was gathered around the door” (Picture from Rembrandt) A crowd of humanity in all it fragility, with its open sores, its demon possessed jittery people; it’s contagious ones, its groans, and moans of pain, all milling around under torch light. The whole city- the obviously sick and the less obvious. All come to see the healer. All come because they had heard that here was one who cared, who could bring the healing of God into their midst. It says that Jesus healed many of them- not all of them. Here in the midst of the pain of humanity God was present.
That is what Jesus did, that is what he empowered his first disciples later on to also do. When we are living as the church, as disciples of Jesus in this place- we will discover the crowd at our door. On our steps, in our yard, in our basement and yes in our pews. We know this. We have seen this. And this story reminds us that it is Jesus – his healing, forgiving, loving presence that we have to offer, to inspire, to reveal. Will we do it perfectly; will everyone who comes find the healing they desire? Of course not. Healing is a mysterious gift of God. But we can be sure that when we open our doors to Jesus. When we do our work with his spirit in our hearts. His healing will come. Maybe through a song. Maybe through a listening ear. Maybe through a program of small groups. Maybe through you. Maybe through me. But Christ’s healing will come.
Precious Lord Take my Hand #474