HEALING MINISTRY OF CHRIST
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 6th 2009
Isaiah 35: 4 “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, be strong, fear not! Behold your God will come….he will come and save you!”
Have you ever seen a healing?
I was asked that question this week from someone who I visit regularly, and I had to think. Of course she had in mind a miracle – something that would be obvious and spectacular, and something to give thanks to God for. I couldn’t remember when I had seen such a miracle. I’d been at occasional services and prayer meetings where people have claimed to be healed in a wonderful way, but I don’t remember seeing anything before my very eyes.
Later on, as I reflected on this, I realised that, yes, I had been a witness to two obvious healings in my own life. The first was 32 years ago when I had a motorbike accident. (those who have seen me drive won’t be surprised at that!). I broke my tibia and fibular, lost my two front teeth, and got rid of a beard as well.
I was in hospital for a month, and then had months of rehab. As I reflect on that 18 months, the healing took its course – but I could easily have been killed, or left a vegetable, or been physically disabled. And I would have never become your Rector!
But I was healed, and prayers were offered for me daily, from Australia to Walsingham. In hospital the priest anointed me and brought me Holy Communion regularly in hospital and at home. I was told I was lucky – but for Christians, things don’t depend on luck. We believe that we are blessed.
It was the healing power of Jesus, the ministry of the Church, and the prayers of faithful Christians that healed me. I know that a lot of you will be thinking that’s your experience too.
The second healing was four years ago, when I had major surgery. I still remember the Mass for healing attended by 30 parishioners, and the prayers that were offered in this parish and around the world. Again it could have been less than successful, or I could have had ongoing problems. But not so, thanks be to God
The truth is that once again I experienced the healing power of Jesus, the ministry of the Church, and the prayers of my faithful christians brothers and sisters. I am sure each of you could reflect on how Jesus has healed you like that – even if we have concerns right now, for ourselves or someone else.
Today’s Gospel (Mark 7: 31-37), describes a spectacular healing by Jesus. A deaf man with a stutter or lisp was brought to Jesus. “And they besought him to lay his hand upon him”. They were anxious and thought that Jesus could heal the man.
Saint Mark goes into great detail about what Jesus did in this healing. It was done privately and involved physical touch, as well as words. Then that familiar conclusion: “He charged them to tell no one”. We have seen this before haven’t we….Jesus does not want people broadcasting such things – for he does not want to be seen as a miracle worker.
The reason is revealed in the first reading (Isaiah 35: 4-7). Here the prophet declares that healing the deaf, the blind and the lame is a sign of God’s kingdom come. It is not just for its own benefit, it is a sign. This theme is also taken up in Psalm 146. So when Jesus heals it is a sign of God’s kingdom come. But Isaiah 35 is about more than physical healing – it actually extends to all of creation: “For waters shall break forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert”.
We all know that water is a profound symbol and image in Scripture: Noah’s Ark, the Red Sea, the Baptism of Jesus, and the many images of water as a sign of life and healing.
So when Jesus comes as a healer he is fulfilling the real meaning of Isaiah 35 – for his healing is a sign of the new life in the kingdom of God. And the punch-line is in verse 4: “Be strong, fear not, behold your God will come”.
As I was reflecting on the words of Isaiah I could not help seeing a parallel between what he says and two great problems facing us in America today – healthcare and climate change.
Now I am not going to preach on politics! But when Isaiah speaks of healing as a sign of God’s kingdom, we should surely be concerned that millions of Americans can not afford healthcare. And when he says: “The burning sand shall become a pool”, surely it makes us concerned at the changes in the world’s climate.
Christians should be concerned about these things. And we should pray about this – even if we think we have neither the answers nor influence. Now Isaiah is talking about these things as pointing to a greater healing – healing from sin and an abundance of goodness. That might also be a need for our country and world today.
The reaction Jesus got when he healed the man today was that: “They were astonished beyond measure….and the more zealously they proclaimed it”. They were proclaiming the healing power of Jesus.
Many churches do this. They place great stress on healing and they report miracles and healings as regular happenings. They invite people to come forward to receive such healings – a tumor disappears, a leg gets lengthened, a cancer is cured.
I suppose we can’t blame them for talking about it. After all, that’s what the disciples did in the Gospel. But what about those who don’t get healed? We don’t hear about what happens to them, do we? And they are always in the majority.
By contrast to that sort of ministry of healing, the Church’s ministry of healing is quiet and focuses on prayer and the sacraments. Here at All Saints’, daily we pray for names on our parish sick lists to God with sighs and prayers. Lots of prayer goes up, not just at the Eucharist each day, but by many of you who are in our prayer chain or take home the intercessions lists. Prayer goes up unceasing and quietly.
When sickness or surgery comes our way, the sacrament of unction – the anointing with holy oil – is given to us. It may not cure us, but it will strengthen us inwardly and get us through the experience, so that no matter what happens we retain our faith and our sanity.
Today’s Gospel is all about the sacraments. Jesus uses material things, and he says specific words to effect the healing of the man – just as the Church does in the sacraments. The Church uses specific words, the touch of the priest and things like oil and water.
And like Jesus, the Church sighs in prayer for her children.
The Church imparts the healing of Jesus particularly through the sacraments of Unction, Confession, and Holy Communion. These three sacraments strengthen us and heal us inwardly – and sometimes outwardly too. They may not give us a miracle, but they will make us whole inside, even in our suffering and pain.
That is the greater miracle – when the outward healing is not affected we are enabled not just to follow Christ, but to walk with him to Calvary.
There ultimately comes a time when words and talking can no longer help. That’s when for the christian soul the sacraments take over – those tangible expressions of God’s love and Christ’s healing.
When we face death the last rites are offered to us as a sign of the Church’s blessing, and of Jesus’ promise that we will live with him forever.
The Last Rites are the wonderful healing touch of Jesus for that final journey, when we go from this life with all its pain and sickness, to the life of eternal glory and love in heaven.
And when that time comes we will know what Isaiah meant in the first reading today: “Be strong, fear not! Behold your God is coming to save you!”