WHAT WOULD YOU WANT JESUS TO HEAL?
Mark 1: 21-28
In spite of the very popular uses of DVRs to skip over commercials on television, there are some shows that are rarely recorded: the daily news, for example, or sporting events, and other live performances. In any one of these venues, pharmaceutical companies work on our philosophies of life. We are told in commercials that we could live longer, look younger, and be pain free. Men are given promises that their middle or old aged body can act like a 20 year old, and women are given hope of turning back the clock on their bodies as well. These are well paid advertising companies who know how to convince you and me, or at least make us consider, that we need not live with pain and that even over the counter medicines can fix our symptoms, masking our health issues. Even though in recent years we have said that medical care in our country is broken, it is more the delivery of care that is broken rather than the level of competence. But even one of my doctors years ago admitted to me, “Jeff, there is almost nothing that doctors can fix. All we can do pave the way for the possibility for the body to heal.” And my friend Dr. Dan Hale, author of several books on medical and religious partnership, is convinced, as I am, that there is a body mind and soul connection. The world of healing today can include traditional medicines, holistic approaches, osteopathic or chiropractic care, and prayer. I have not read or heard about a single person who says that all things can be cured, nor have I heard of ones who say nothing can be cured; from some situations we heal, and from some, we do not. What do we do about both of those times? That is the issue I want to address with the topic “What Would You Want Jesus to Heal?”
The gospels, by their own stated purposes, are written to convince those who hear them or tell them that Jesus Christ is Lord. From reading the gospels, I believe that: Jesus is my Lord. But if ad people of today make a case for their products, could writers out to convince a skeptical first century world include mostly the good and convincing parts of the healing ministry of Jesus? Could there have been some people, men, women, or children, who were not healed after he touched them, or did not stay healed? Today the ad people of the Gospels want to call Jesus “healer.” And we have many credible witnesses to show that he did heal. But were there times when he did not or could not? We’ll not know, because the writers wanted the readers to believe the “good news.” Why would a preacher bring this up today? I bring it up so that you can give thought, and not simply lose faith, when someone you love gets ill or dies. It seems to me there are several things that can happen when we get broken, or ill : 1) We can learn how to find our voice in our brokenness; or 2) we can be healed; or 3) we die or live with an illness or disease. First, some learn how to find their voice in their brokenness. One of the best examples of someone who does this is Ruthann Ralph in our church. With a body racked with fibromyalgia, a weakened bone structure, and chronic fatigue, she grieved over the death of her son Bruce when he lost his life in a boating accident, and she thinks constantly about others. Though she can barely get out, she reads the Spire and stays in touch with me by email and phone calls and will be an upcoming Westminster Institute class teacher. She once found a book, and she gave me a copy. Called, “My Beautiful Broken Shell,” it tells the story of woman who used to walk the beach near her house to find perfect shells; she would get up very early to do so. But one day, she noticed the number of broken shells that got left behind by others, and she decided to also pick up the broken shells; the ones no one wanted. Ruthann’s body is broken, but she wants to care for others who are broken, and have a kindred sharing in their brokenness. Still for the picture directory, she enlisted the help of her other son Christopher, to come pick her up, bring her to church, help her onto her walker, and move into the Sunday School wing for her Olan Mills picture. While she was there, she asked if I would place a hand on her back and pray for her pain to ease, something that I had done with success before, not because of my power, but because of God’s power and her belief. I took her and Christopher into our chapel and I prayed for her as my hand was on her back. The next week she wrote this: “Dear Jeff; I thought that you would appreciate an update since your laying on of hands last Saturday.
I felt some relief right away and it continued to increase; I am sure it will more so. Yesterday I actually went outside in my chair and got up and down at times to do what I wanted to do. I took down some worn out decorations of silk flowers, arranged my beach bricks and cleaned out a ton of old leaves and weeds that I could reach and got them to the garbage. I guess I was out there working for over two hours. I haven’t done that in I can’t even tell you when, a very long time, years. Praise the Lord and thank you for being there for me to help with this. I am sure Christopher knows and has always known I had faith, but I know that he was impressed and awed by what you did for me. Thank you so very much. Love Ruthann
Sometimes, as in the Gospels, through prayerful contact with God, a healing takes place. Ruthann is still broken, but still, a healing took place. Another one in our church was too weakened by chemotherapy to be around the germs that people carry. For awhile she was sick at home; but then she found her voice and made regular calls to those in our church who were homebound, reporting to our Congregational Life committee what she had learned and said. That was finding a voice in a person’s brokenness.
I too prayed that, when I learned that I had diabetes, that I might be healed from it. God listened, but had other plans. My disease has now given me a voice in health ministry that I would not have had before. I am a board member of the national Presbyterian Health Network, and I have been invited to Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore to be a speaker for one or their Symposiums this fall. I also know of those who have lost a child and they turned tragedy into a triumph; I know others who have lost their spouse who found the strength to go on, and connect with others in ways that they would not have before. “Caring Friends of Westminster” is just one group that specifically walks with those who are broken. Some even find their emotional legs to move forward. Brokenness may lead us to new connections, rather than bitter faithlessness that asks “Why has this happened to me?”
A second resp
onse to illness or disease is a healing. This is the one everyone wants; it’s the one we cling to as we read about the raising of Lazarus, or Jesus healing a blind man, or the man by the pool who was lame and told to stand up and walk. It’s the thing that makes many people flock to men who say they can, on cue and on time, get people on television to walk again, to see again, or to hear again. Most everyone first wants healing; their first hope is healing, and if there is a lack of healing, it shakes the foundations of their faith: understandably so. So as in Jesus’ day, even in our day people go to healers in droves, in the desperate hope that a person who has healed before might heal them. They go to Pentecostal preachers, or medical specialists, or holistic healers, or to other countries for alternative treatments. Desperate illness brings out desperate measures. It is natural for people to seek them out. If your choice of healers is a preacher, you will need great faith that you will be healed. I once entered the hospital room of a man who was the husband of a woman who attended our church, but he didn’t. When I asked him “Would you like me to have a prayer with you?” he said “If it will make you feel better!” I told him it wouldn’t particularly, so I did not pray with him. Prayer has to have the consent and the collaboration of the one being prayed for to be most effective. But sometimes, through medical care, or prayer, or a renewed immune system due to laughter and love, people are healed. These are extraordinary and celebrative times. As in our text today, people can even be delivered from psychological or physical disorders. This is the hope for all healers; this is the hope for all broken people. It is the gold standard for all hopeful people, for their child, or their grandchild, or their best friend, or their spouse. But not everyone who asks, even people of faith as we have learned, is healed.
That leaves us in the dreadful third category: some beloved people do die early, and some do have to live with a disease. The Gospel of Mark, one of the ones written to be packed with “good news,” records a chief priest saying this, pointing to our bleeding, tormented Savior on the cross: “He saved others; he cannot save himself.” Jesus could not save himself. But when life drained from his body, his death became even more significant than his three years of ministry; he changed the world with a dreadful crucifixion. So there are some who do die young, or live with cancer or heart disease; some with diseases like leprosy that still ravage people in third world countries today; and others have debilitating conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, or macular degeneration. When they turn to Scripture and long to get a word of hope for themselves from the healings recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the astute Christian might gently lead them also to other places in the Bible where some broken people have turned to God: places like the Psalms, and the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Not everyone in the Bible gets healed; and we only know of the ones Jesus healed that were written down. Life is filled with unexpected sorrows and certainly with brokenness. But it is in my brokenness, I have discovered, that I depend more completely on God and on others, and our shared brokenness is the starting point of a new relationship. We will celebrate healings for sure; but let us also walk with one another in our brokenness. As we connect with others and with God in prayer, Isaiah preaches this message to us: “those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (40:31)
Let us pray:
O God who created us: you surely must know how much our prayers ache for healing; that is our first hope for ourselves, for our child, our grandchild, or our spouse. We want healing because Jesus healed. But the one who could not save himself also comforted those in sorrow; and there are people in the Bible with infirmities that are not healed and deaths that come too soon. And dear Omnipotent God: we know you hear us as we pray; but you see the world and our circumstances with a much broader view than we have. Remind us that in all things “you work for good for those who love you.” We will work to put our trust in thee, even during our darkest days. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner January 29, 2012