with Rev.d Helen Mitchell
“I am the Lord that healeth thee”
So we sang this morning and so we will sing every Sunday in Lent.
For us to sing this is an expression of trust in the truth of that statement, our God, is a God who heals, healing is of the very essence of God.
I hope all of you are by now aware that this year, St Gregory’s will again be setting forth on the great adventure of prayer and mission that is Prayer 48. During the weekend of 12th-14th June 2015 we are committing ourselves to pray for 48 hours continuously.
During that time, 24 hours a day, there will always be some-one in church, praying, or just being a prayerful presence.
We will again deliver a prayer request card to every household in the parish, about 5,000 in total, in the weeks beforehand, asking them to make their prayer requests known to us.
Please make sure that you will be here and able to take part in this great adventure. Please give this a priority in your busy lives, as it is so important that the whole church is involved.
If you weren’t here last time, speak to others, it isn’t frightening, no one will be asking you to pray aloud, and don’t worry if you think you’re really bad at praying, there will be lots of different ways to engage, but it is an amazing, rewarding opportunity to hold our community in prayer.
We know from last time and indeed from the prayer requests that are always on our prayer board that the vast majority of the prayers are for healing of one sort or another. So the focus of this year’s Prayer 48 will be prayer for healing, and a quiet service of prayer for healing will be a part of it.
To help to prepare us for this, the sermons during Lent will be a sermon series on healing.
Healing services can have a bit of a bad press.
I am sure that you like me have seen television programmes and read about charlatans who exploit desperate and gullible people with promises of instant miraculous physical healings, if they simply pay enough to the healer. Unfortunately some of these healers misuse the name of Jesus Christ in this way.
And even within genuine, faithful churches, there can be such an emphasis on faith filled healings, that those who are not healed go away more damaged, convinced that if only they had had more faith, they could have got up from their wheel chair and walked, or whatever was being prayed for.
In such an atmosphere, terminal illness can feel like personal failure.
These are real dangers and yet, it is incumbent on us as Church to talk about and to pray for healing.
But we need to put our prayers in their proper context.
And the proper context is as so often, The Kingdom of God.
In our gospel reading, Jesus comes in to Galilee to begin his ministry, proclaiming “The Kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news”
The earthly ministry of Jesus is all about the good news of the kingdom.
The parables of Jesus are about what the kingdom is like, and the healing miracles of Jesus were not just demonstrations of divine compassion, they were outward and visible signs of the kingdom he proclaimed.
Jesus did not heal simply because it was something good and decent to do, he healed because healing was central to the proclamation of the kingdom.
The kingdom is essentially about healing, not just of individuals but of societies and nations and of all of God’s creation.
Hans Kung said “the Kingdom is creation healed” And this is the future that we are promised, to which we look forward, and in which, somehow, we will have a place, God’s kingdom on earth, God’s new creation, creation healed.
The World Council of Churches’ definition of health would as easily work as a description of the kingdom:
“a dynamic state of well-being of the individual and society, of physical, mental, spiritual, economic, political and social well-being, of being in harmony with each other, with the material environment and with God.”
The kingdom is creation renewed in perfect health and wholeness.
Over the coming weeks in Lent and during prayer 48 itself we will be looking at all these wider aspects of healing, our own inner healing, healing of our relationship with God, relationships with others, within society, between nations and of creation, all of which are included as we pray and work for God’s kingdom to come in all its fullness.
But we will also be looking at how the wholeness and health of the kingdom is made available for us now.
Because the kingdom, this state of dynamic health, for individuals and society does not just belong to the future. The proclamation of Jesus was that in him, the kingdom of God had come near.
It is in Jesus that we see the healing compassion of God for the world made visible, not theoretically or conceptually but physically and intensely.
Jesus came into the midst of the world as a human being and healed with his hands.
Whether blind or lame, leper or paralytic, Jesus embraced our physical condition totally and without limit and healed through God’s love.
The healing ministry of Jesus reached its fulfilment when he stretched out his arms on the cross and he took all the suffering and all the sin of the world into himself, healing through his very being.
The health of the world depends on Christ, our well-being lies in Jesus’ hands.
The story is not yet complete. The Church is not only about what happened in the past. The Church is not only about what will happen in the future, the Church is about what is happening now.
The world still suffers, the new creation lives in the midst of the old creation of sin and suffering, but the kingdom still comes near to us in Jesus. The healing power of Jesus is available to us his Church, through the work of the Holy Spirit, and it is incumbent on the Church to make that healing power available to those who so desperately need it.
It is only the continuing presence of Jesus in the church among us and with us through the Holy Spirit that enables us to pray for healing, and it is only the presence of Jesus through the Holy Spirit that is effective to answer our prayers.
To be clear, we do not seek to usurp the wonderful physical healing provided by modern medicine, believing and praying that God may work through it.
The Church’s ministry of healing is not an alternative to medical care, neither is it in opposition to it.
But it does provide the extra dimension often so lacking in our modern world.
Because we pray for healing for the whole person, for physical, mental and especially for spiritual healing, for healing of that deep inner brokenness and alienation from God, which is the sickness and the brokenness we call sin.
As we continue the healing ministry of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit we are not able to avert death.
Neither would we always wish to do so. Death is the natural end of our life on earth and there comes a point for us all at which death is the good end to a life well lived.
This life is a gift and it is given only for a time.
Neither are we able to avert all suffering. God does not will our suffering, God wills our health and wholeness but for reasons we cannot fully understand, some suffering is an inevitable part of this life.
But this does not mean we should not pray for death and suffering to be averted, if this is what we desperately desire, we should always bring our real, fervent desires into our prayers and offer them to God.
And I am sure that you, like me, will be able to think of instances when such prayer has been answered seemingly against all odds. But for every example I could give you, there are others where the answer has been otherwise.
I do not think this means we have a capricious or inconsistent God, on the contrary, I believe we have a God who always works for good, whose divine activity is always at work in and through his creation, but who respects its integrity.
Rowan Williams says this, ( p.45 tokens of trust)
“God is always at work, but sometimes the world’s processes go with the grain of his final purpose and sometimes they resist. … Perhaps a really intense prayer or a really holy life can open the world up that bit more to God’s purposes so that unexpected things can happen.
We’re never going to have a complete picture of how that works because we don’t have God’s perspective on it all. But we can say that there are some things we can think or say or do that seem to give God extra freedom of manoeuvre in our universe.
And whether we fully understand what’s going on or not, we know it’s incumbent on us to let this happen…..it isn’t a process we can manipulate;…all we know is that we are called to pray, to trust and to live with integrity before God (that is to live holy lives) in such a way as to leave the door open, to let things come together so that love can come through.”
Where prayer for healing is offered in humility and trust, glimpses of the kingdom of God are seen and experienced.
Healing is given in all sorts of ways, from unexpected, even astounding cures, to more rapid recoveries, to broken relationships restored, to feelings of peace and a knowledge of God’s presence in adversity, to suffering born with Christ-like patience, to deaths peacefully entered into in the hope of God’s mercy and love.
Humility and trust.
In our first hymn, after “I am the Lord who healeth thee”
We sang “In thee O Lord I put my trust”
We will sing that verse again now before our silence.
(Much of this material is from “ A time to heal” a report for the house of bishops on the ministry of healing 2000)