This is a bit different sermon for me. It has a very open-ended conclusion, if it even has a conclusion. Basically I want to know how we can help each other encounter the healing power of God. (Text at the end, as usual.)
When Steve called to set up a meeting with me early on a Tuesday morning, I had no idea why a) he wanted the appointment and b) why so early in the morning. As it turned out, his wife was having surgery later in the morning, and he wanted to pray with me beforehand. The fact that a husband wanted prayer for his wife’s surgery was not out of the ordinary. The fact that Steve was a surgeon, and was extremely wound up about what was usually considered a routine surgery was a little out of the ordinary.
“I’m a doctor,” he told me. “I know how much is in my hands, and how much is not. I know how important it is to bring God in the room. I want God there with my wife when she is being operated on.”
His wife came out of the surgery with no complications, but it was an important moment for me. As much as I believe that God heals us through doctors and nurses and counselors and other professionals, I have come to respect the more direct role of God in healing as well. More than once I have seen people recover from life threatening medical situations, and the doctors who were caring for the person were mystified why. A few of the doctors I knew when I worked as a hospital chaplain were pretty open about their faith. “It’s a miracle,” were words I heard more than once.
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The Healing Place
In my last sermon I talked about the calm within the storm, and I said that as the Body of Christ, we are the calm within the storm. We are the shelter from the storm. Just as Jesus rebuked the wind and the rain, so we rebuke the storms that enter our lives, knowing that God is bigger than the storms. Our relationship with God gives us a long-term perspective on events. As peole of faith we know, in the end, that evil will not triumph, that the storms will not undo us. They scare us, but they will not destroy us.
This week I am talking about the Healing Place, and I want to say first that we are also a healing place. Just as we are the calm in the storm, so are we to a healing place.
A friend of mine in Durham, North Carolina came from an Assemblies of God background. His father was an Assemblies of God pastor. But he contracted a chronic illness, one that did not end his career as a minister, but which had an effect on how he carried out his ministry. The congregation he served believed that God healed those who needed healing. Their pastor’s illness was almost an affront to them, as if God had abandoned him. And if God had abandoned their minister, they felt God had abandoned them. And so they drove him away.
“The church,” said my friend, “is the only hospital that shoots its wounded.” Instead of being a healing place, sometimes churches are the last place you can admit to having any problems.
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A Story of Two Healings
This morning’s Gospel lesson is a story of two healings. The first is the daughter of the local leader of the synagogue. Jairus, her father comes to Jesus ands asks him to heal his daughter. Well, not asked. Jairus begs him to heal his daughter who is dying. Jesus agrees but on the way there he has an unexpected healing encounter. In the crowd of people followng him to Jairus’s house is a woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for the last twelve years. Now in that culture, the flow of blood made this woman unclean. And anyone who touched her also became unclean. She had to avoid human contact. When she met someone, she was obligated to tell them she was an unclean person.
When I was a kid we had a kid in our class who was more than a bit different from the rest of us. I lived in fairly affluent neighborhood, and almost all the kids in the school came from an upper-middle class background. But not Terry. His family was poor. His clothes obviously came from thrift shops. (Most of us did not know what a thrift shop was!) He didn’t always smell nice, like the other kids. Once, for show and tell, he told us of how his mother had stabbed his father during a fight. All of this led us to the obvious conclusion that Terry had cooties, which was the worst thing a kid could have. One day, during recess, Terry ran around telling the other kids he had cooties, and chasing them, to give them his cooties. I remember watching that, and it was the first time I saw what social ostracization was. Terry was an unclean person, and what was worse, he owned that. He saw himself as a person with cooties, and his response was to spread them to us. Maybe he thought that if we all had cooties, then we could friends.
The woman with the hemorrhage was Terry writ large. Like Terry, she reached out to touch others, specifically Jesus, but she did so, not to “infect” him, but to find healing. So she touched him. She did not even touch him. She knew that was wrong. She just touched his cloak. And Jesus knew, as soon as he was touched, that something happened, something special. He calls out, “Who touched me?” The woman came forward, and admitted the whole thing. In that context Jesus had every right to yell at her, to say, “Who are you to touch me like that?” That was probably what the woman expected.
But that is not what happened. Instead he embraces her. “Your faith has made you well. Go and peace. And be healed.”
Now here is the interesting thing. Her body was already healed. But there was a deeper wound, one that no doctor could cure. Her soul was damaged. She was an outcast. The deeper pain was the shame she lived with for all those years.
While this is happening some people come and to tell Jairus that his daughter has died. There is no more reason for Jesus to come. The battle is lost. She is gone, and there is nothing that anyone can do anymore. Not even Jesus.
Or so they thought. But Jesus is not one to be stopped by lost causes. He insists on going on the home, against the advice of those who thought they knew what was what. And he heals her.
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The Lord of Lost People and Lost Causes
In the first instance, Jesus reaches out beyond social strictures to provide healing. Now here is the interesting thing. Her body was already healed. But there was a deeper wound, one that no doctor could cure. Her soul was damaged. She was an outcast. The deeper pain was the shame she lived with for all those years. Jesus does not see a woman who is a pariah to all around her. He sees a hurt person who needs healing. The real healing took place in her soul. She was a lost soul with a damaged spirit, and Jesus healed her.
In the second, he reaches past the lost cause and brings about a new possibility. Jesus does not see the hopelessness of the situation. He sees instead the possibility of God’s healing actions, which can work through him.
He is the Lord of lost people and lost causes, and can bring healing to both situations. And he does.
And he still does.
Now our maladies may not be as dire as that of the woman or of Jairus’s daughter. But we have them. You don’t have to be physically sick to need healing. We all have suffered the hurts of life, and some of those hurts, while old, may still be doing damage in us. Some of may be soul sick; there is a dis-ease within us that no doctor can cure.
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How Can This Be?
So if we are the healing place, and Jesus is the healer, how does all this work?
It’s not gonna happen because I start calling people up and whomp you on the head saying “In the nahyme of Jezzzus, be HEALED!”
But it does happen through intentional prayer.
I participated in a healing service many years ago, which I will never forget. This was a raucus free for all, but a quiet service, where the congregation sang songs and hymns. Those who wanted to could come up for prayer. There were three teams at the chancel area, and we prayed with and for people as they came up to ask for prayer.
I remember one person vividly. A man I had known for a few years came up, and he said, “Four years ago my oldest son told me he had AIDS. I kicked him out. I rejected him. I never saw him again. A year ago I got word that he died. I don’t know where and I don’t know how.” Then he broke down crying. “I’m so sorry,” he sobbed. “He was my son, and I…” He couldn’t even finish the sentence. The two of us who were praying for him held his hands. And we prayed for him, and we prayed with him. We sat with him for a long time, while he cried and we prayed silently for him, and he prayed. His prayer was simple. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. Forgive me. Please forgive me.”
And something started to change in him that day. He started to find healing. When I saw him, about five months later, he was volunteering with a group that provided care and counseling for AIDS patients. He was doing for others what he did not do for his son, and in the process, he found healing.
Now healing is not always as dramatic. It is not always within the context of a healing service. When we take time for the silent confession each week, you are essentially asking for God to heal us from the hurts we might have inflicted on others during the week, for the needs we may have ignored, for the sins that may have scarred us. I hope that is what we do during that time. Maybe not every week, but every week we need to.
Every Sunday we pray for people here in this congregation. I say, “What are the joys and concerns of your life?” and the people tell me. They share their prayer request. They share the joys they have in their hearts. After they have shared, I say, “Lord in your mercy,” and the congregation says, “Hear our prayers.” That should be, when needed, a healing act of prayer.
Often we pray for people’s physical needs, and that is right and meet to do. But I am sure that there are needs that do not get mentioned because they are either very personal or not appropriate to share in a public context. And I have to say, I’m not sure we provide enough opportunities for that. Some people come to talk to me privately, but as I was preparing this sermon, I began to realize that if we are to be a healing place, we need to provide more opportunities for healing. I would be interested in hearing from you on how you think we can become a more healing place.
In the end I need to say that we are not the healers. Christ is the healer. We provide opportunities for Christ to work. We provide ways for people to encounter the healing touch of Christ.
How can we best do that? How can this church provide a place of healing for you? Often in a sermon I end up talking about possibilities for ways to serve Jesus. This week I am asking you, “How can we help Jesus servce you? How can we provide a way for you to encounter the healing touch of Jesus? What can the church do to help you? This week I am asking you, “How can we be the healing place where Christ is able to do the work?”
To believe that God may heal is a radical act of faith. To believe that God can heal our souls, to believe that God can do things we think are impossible takes faith. Not your faith. OUR faith. We gather together to provide a community of healing, to support one another, to pray for one another, and let God work through us to heal one another.
21When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?'” 32He looked all around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.