One of the first things that I do when I prepare for a sermon is to think about what kind of message God wants us to receive from the given text. To do that, I have to first find out what the text meant when it was written many years ago. And then, I continue to reflect on what the text means to us, here and now. Usually, as a preacher, I have no problem understanding the text, but if I cannot find a relevant message, I am in a trouble.
As I told you, last Sunday’s sermon was very difficult to preach, not because I shared my own painful story, but because I couldn’t deliver a message of “Peace! Be Still” (from Mark 4:35-41) to us…, to all those who live such a time as this when children, even toddlers, are being separated from their parents by our government. I struggled and I couldn’t finish my sermon preparation until Sunday morning. As usual, I sent my sermon to Millie Miceli and the following is a part of her response: “Pastor Tom, Thank you for this! I was in PA visiting all my sick relatives, but read this Sunday morning and said prayers. Helped, thank you.” On the following day she sent me another message: “Aww Pastor Tom, It just keeps getting worse. My brother in law is in hospital and had to have two toes amputated on his remaining left foot. Still a big spot on his heel and another operation to clean that up. Prayers are needed.
My great niece 11 years old has total kidney failure and will need a transplant. She is in DuPont Hosp facility. A cousin, more like a brother very close with me, just had a stroke and then diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This is all my family, I am speaking with the Lord all day long, so sad.”
Until I received this message, I was studying today’s text which involves two healing stories. What is interesting to me is that one healing story is interrupted with another. They don’t seem to be connected. So, I checked other Gospels…, you know Matthew and Luke also report on this story. But, when I received Millie’s email, I changed my mind. Rather than preach on this particular text, I decided to think about our healing ministry, because quite a few members are in the same situation.Nearly one-fifth of the Gospel record is about Jesus’ miracles and that includes fourteen distinct instances of physical and mental healing. And Jesus was not the only healer – the disciples were involved as well. In fact, when Jesus sent seventy of them out two by two as advance teams to the towns on the planned itinerary, part of their instructions were to “cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:9).
The healings continued long after that first generation of believers was gone from the scene. However, by about the fourth century, the church’s ministry of healing began to deteriorate. Nowadays, the ministry of healing has fallen away to almost nothing. Too bad.
Most mainline Christians have little or no understanding of any healing ministry other than what we might occasionally encounter on TV when we land on the wrong channel. What we watch there is embarrassing manipulation, which I personally believe why people leave Christianity.
James 5:14-15 read: “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick [or make the sick whole], and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.” Does the church today approach illness this way? Not often. And the reason is that, when we get sick, our habit is to call the doctor, not the church. A better way would be to call BOTH! And as a church, let us pray hard, especially for those who are on our prayer list and their families.
Last week, Barry forwarded an article to me. The title is: “Worshiping With a Broken Heart,” by Rachel Coulter. I don’t know who this person is, but I can’t agree more with her. Her main point is: Pain Is Personal, Healing Is Corporate. She wrote,
As believers, we are called to carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). No one would argue that one man can lift more than ten men lifting together. So why do we often ignore the hands extended to help us carry our burdens, and try to bear the weight on our own? We may always bear the heaviest portion, but encouragement and support from brothers and sisters will significantly lighten the load. Battle hurt with heartfelt singing, loneliness with community and discouragement with the ministry of God’s word.
Surround yourself with God’s people, and you will see that healing does take a village—and that the village is stronger for it. We must combat resounding pain with resolute worship to the Father, alongside brothers and sisters who can pray with us and for us.
So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, Let’s go visit the sick and put our hand upon them and pray for healing. Our task is simply to join in faith and prayer and love and expect something to happen. There will be times when, despite all our prayers, healing does not come in the way we ask – sometimes there has been too much physical damage, and God’s most gracious act will be to let life mercifully end. I truly believe that death can be a blessing. But, those decisions are not ours; rather they are rightfully in the hands of a caring and loving God.
In the United Methodist Book of Worship, there is an important statement about what healing is and is not. “Healing is not magic… It does not replace medicine or psychotherapy… It is not the same as curing… It is a mystery. It is relational: the relation of mind, body, and spirit. Our relationship to each other. Our relationship with God (p.613).”
Every time we worship God, especially, when we worship God with a broken heart, we are reminded of Christ’s brokenness for us and we offer up our brokenness to God. We have to remember that God heals in God’s time and in God’s own way. We may ask for physical healing and receive a spiritual or emotional healing. We come not looking for miracles so much as we come seeking the peace that passes all understanding and oneness with God.
Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior can and does heal. He came to heal the brokenness between us and God and between each other. He came to bring wholeness through being broken on the cross for our sakes. This “wounded healer” rose from the dead offering the ultimate healing of resurrection and eternal life for everyone who will follow Him. That is the ultimate healing we all need.
I have one more thought on this subject: our own experience with illness, depression, and fear can become a gift for others, especially when we have received grace from this wounded healer. That being said, I believe each of us can be a ‘wounded healer.” As long as our wounds are open and bleeding, we scare others away. But, after someone has carefully tended to our wounds, they no longer frighten us or others. When we experience the healing presence of another person, we can discover our own gifts of healing. Then our wounds allow us to enter into a deep solidarity with our wounded brothers and sisters. Through today’s text, our Lord, the wounded healer invites all of us to join his healing ministry. By the power and grace of God, be healed first and go out to heal the world around you. Amen.
My sermon title is “Talitha koum!” It is Aramaic, which was the language Jesus actually spoke. Jesus reached out and lifted up the child’s hand and said, “Talitha koum.” “Little girl” – Talitha – “get up,” is what he said. Today, we all are this little girl. Everyone here today is this little girl one way or another. This morning, our Lord says, “Get up, all of you.”
It is the life-giving power that is at the heart of these two healing stories. It is also the power to get up even when getting up isn’t all that easy for us anymore just like the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. It is also the power to keep getting up and going on and on toward whatever it is ahead of us…, whoever He is, that all our lives long, reaches out to take us by the hand. “Talitha koum!” Let’s get up and go out to heal the world around us.