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Sermon – The Ministry of Healing

The Ministry of Healing

Sermon Preached by Reverend Stuart Langshaw on Sunday, 12 May 2024.

Today, during the reception of Holy Communion at the 9.30 am service, we are re-starting the Ministry of Healing. This was put on hold during the Covid pandemic. It is the last of the pre-Covid practices here at St Andrew’s to be given new life. We have returned to Morning Tea after the 9.30 am service, we have returned to the holding of the monthly Market, we have returned to the use of the common Chalice for the wine of Holy Communion, we have returned to passing the offertory plates along the pews, we have returned to presenting the bread and wine for Holy Communion rather than have them always up here on the Communion Table, and we have returned, mostly, to shaking hands at the door. We have taken giant steps back to what we have been used to doing.

And today, we start again the Ministry of Healing.

The Ministry of Healing has had an important place in the life of many parishes over the years. There is a great deal of theology involved in it; there is a good deal of misunderstanding that surrounds it; there is a good deal that needs to be thought through concerning it.

Throughout the Bible we read about healings of various sorts. The Psalms quite often speak about the healing of the broken in heart. “The Lord heals the broken hearted, and binds up their wounds.” (Ps 147:3). The Old Testament speaks about healing the soul. “I said, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me; heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.’”(Psalm 41:3 KJV). Jeremiah 3:22 speaks about God healing faithlessness. 2 Kings 2:22 refers to the healing of waters to make them potable again. And there is also reference to physical healing – the healing of disease. Take for instance the healing of Naaman the Syrian general who had to wash seven times in the river Jordan to heal whatever the skin disease was that he had (see 2 Kings 5)

Jesus’ ministry was notable for the many people he helped in many ways, healings included. We don’t have time to list the people mentioned in the gospels who received help and healing from the hands of Jesus. When Jesus sent his disciples out of their mission, two by two, part of his commission to them was to heal the sick. He said, “Heal the sick, raise the dead. Cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” (Matthew 10:8). And they did. When St Paul wrote to the Corinthians and described to them the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the gift of healing was one that some Christians received. (1 Corinthians 12:8). And in the epistle of James 5:13ff, James encourages his readers bring their sickness to the elders of the church, to pray over the sick, and to anoint them …”and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up.”

But the ministry of healing had its problems. When Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, he, and Peter, James and John found a father whose son had epilepsy, and during an epileptic episode his behaviour could become quite erratic and dangerous – he would fall into the fire and into water. Despite their best efforts, – and this was after their successful mission two-by-two – the remaining 9 disciples were unable to heal the boy. They seem to have lost their ability to do so. And St Paul could not get healing for whatever the condition was that he suffered from – 2 Corinthians 12 has Paul’s account of his problem. “…a thorn was given me in the flesh … three times I besought the Lord about this that it should leave me; but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you …’ for the sake of Christ then I am content with weaknesses, insults …” (verses 7-10)

The ministry of healing is an authentic part of the life of the local church. Let’s put it this way – when a local congregation meets together as we are doing this morning, we are looking for inspiration and help on all the parts of our human nature … in our mind, in our spirit and in our bodies. Our mind is involved through our hearing the Bible read, and having it explained and applied to our lives. Our spirit is involved as we receive the Holy Communion, and in that simple act of taking and eating and drinking, we find that that inner part of us – our spirit – is helped. Our bodies are involved as we stand and sit and kneel and come forward, and wave during the Peace. And when the Ministry of Healing is offered, and we wish to partake of it, we are affected in mind, spirit and body. Preaching, sacrament, and laying on of hands for healing – mind, spirit and body.

We have general prayers for healing during our intercessions week by week, as we pray for those who are sick. We bring them into the presence of God for love and care and helping according to God’s will. When we ourselves are under the weather, we pray for ourselves, that we might recover – we pray for healing. But we may wish to go further – we may wish to speak with someone and have someone offer personal prayer for us in our situation, whatever it is. We are glad of the word of God that feeds our mind. We are glad of the Holy Communion that charges our spirits. But to speak to someone in confidence and in private … to feel their hands upon us as we receive the laying on of hands … to hear the intimacy of personal prayer for us and for our situation … and to experience the Chrism oil on our foreheads maybe, on our hands, maybe … this too feeds our spirits and our bodies. This takes the general intercessions for healing in our congregational prayers to a new intensely personal, experiential level.

The Ministry of Healing … the sharing of our concern with one other person … the knowing that it is completely and utterly safe and will never be revealed … to be touched … to be prayed for specifically and personally … to be anointed … this feeds our spirits very deeply.

The Ministry of healing is opening up your concern – it is exercising the spiritual dimension of your concern for yourself or for someone else. We have already opened up our concerns and needs to our medical practitioners, and have drawn upon their knowledge and training and wisdom and expertise. We are already receiving help through their advice and the medicines that they have prescribed for us. We live in a very privileged time in the world’s history where medicine and pharmacology bring such a wealth of care and relief and often cure. For those of us who believe in God and the spiritual nature of life, he Ministry of Healing is yet another approach we can add to the obvious God-given talents of doctors and pharmacists. We use the God-given talents of a wise and Christian adviser and helper.

What do we expect from the Ministry of Healing? I want to say that we ought not to expect an instantaneous and immediate cure of all that’s wrong with us. I would not expect to see abandoned walking frames, wheel chairs and bottles of tablets in the foyer of our church. It is the Ministry of Healing, not the Ministry of Curing, and they are not the same thing. Frankly most people don’t get cured in the sense that their sickness and its symptoms and its results all disappear there and then. Also, we need to say that the Ministry of Healing is a quiet, gentle, spiritual exercise. Too often from popular films and TV shows we get the impression that there will be such phenomena as “slaying in the spirit”, and people lying prone on the floor in a state of spiritual rapture. That’s not the Ministry of Healing. There is no showmanship, no dramatics, no emotional manipulation. It is a quiet, gentle, spiritual exercise.

The Ministry of Healing is a valid part of the church’s life. It may be something that we think is for us, or we may think it is not for us. That is entirely our choice. The body of Christ exists to bring God’s love and mercy to people in all their circumstances. The Holy Spirit of God works in our minds, our spirits and our bodies. Through word, sacrament and the laying-on of hands with prayer, we can access the love and mercy of God.

God offers his gifts to us all – let us use God’s gifts with humility, joy and gladness.