God Is…God is in Charge…and God Cares!

Epiphany 5B – Trinity Cathedral – Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12, 21c; I Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39.

 

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is an everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.  Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

 

“That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons…”

 

One of the things I have noticed about Trinity Cathedral, over the years, and now as I am able to worship with you more regularly and supply occasionally, is that you really are a “healing community” in many ways. Your clergy and lay visitors take their ministration to the sick seriously and prayers for healing are offered regularly – not only as intercessions but actually praying for one another right here in church.

 

I think that’s wonderful because I have been interested in the healing ministry for many years. First, as a hospital visitor and intercessor myself, then as a member of various prayer groups over the years in which prayer for the sick was an integral part, and finally as a chaplain in the Order of St. Luke the Physician, a healing Order in the Episcopal Church, while rector of my last parish. I was glad to see something of a revitalization of that Order in several places around this diocese when I was Bishop here.

 

Yet, I find that lot of folks today, even Christian people, have difficulty on one level or another with the concept of healing. And, by that, I mean what we might call “spiritual healing,” healing which is related to prayer and to the spiritual life. The kind of healing we find suggested in our First Lesson today, really all the way through the Bible, and certainly in our Gospel reading from Mark.

 

A good bit of the difficulty, I think, comes from the characterizations of it many people see on television. So-called “faith healers” who use excessive amounts of emotionalism and manipulation, and sometimes downright fakery to put on a good show, and rake in significant amounts of cash in the process!

 

Well, those are often mockeries and travesties of the healing ministry. But healing is a ministry in which the Church has always been involved. It has ebbed and flowed over the centuries, but it’s always been a part of the Church’s life. If there’s anything clear about Jesus’ own ministry it is that he was a healer. The Apostles and the early Church continued in his pattern.  And the sacrament of anointing with the laying on of hands for healing is a deeply scriptural notion.

 

Many parishes across the country have chapters of the Order of St. Luke, the purpose of which is to restore healing to its central place in the life of the Church.

 

So, it’s far from a new idea in the Episcopal Church, but I do think we can learn something new about it by taking a closer look at today’s Gospel. First of all, Jesus healed Peter’s mother in law and apparently the word got out because, before the evening was over, he was besieged with requests to heal people.  The text says that, of those people, he healed “many who were sick with various diseases…” “Many,” you notice, not “all.” Even Jesus did not heal everyone.  

 

But then the text goes on to say, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and there he prayed.  And Simon and his companions hunted for him.  When they found him they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”

 

“I have to proclaim my message…for that is what I came out to do”!  Jesus was always reluctant to get put into the class of “miracle worker” because he was convinced that his main mission was to proclaim his message…to announce the kingdom, or the Reign, of God!  Jesus’ primary message, like John the Baptist before him, was the Reign, or the Sovereignty, of God.

 

That GOD IS…that GOD IS IN CHARGE…and that GOD CARES! Everything else was subordinate to that message.    

 

So, when Jesus healed somebody, he didn’t do it to prove that he was the Son of God, or the Messiah.  He did it to bring them closer to the reign and sovereignty of God. He did it to show them that God is…that God is in charge…and that God cares.  The healings that Jesus was involved in, the miracles he performed were not ends in themselves. They were “signs.” Signs of the kingdom. Signs that the reign and the sovereignty of God had already begun!

 

Well, I think healing works the same way today. More than anything else, God wants us to begin living under the reign, in the kingdom, of God.  To be close to God, to live in God’s love. And to the extent that sickness and disease get in the way of our whole relationship with God, to the extent that sickness gets in the way of our “wholeness” as human beings, then God is against it. And works against it! That’s why we pray for the sick.

 

But the overall intent of God, and the overall intent of the Church, is the proclamation of the reign and sovereignty and the realm of God. Not simply the removal of physical symptoms or even physical suffering. Now, it may be that the way for you to attain genuine wholeness and a deep relationship with God is for you to be healed, by the power of God, from some dread disease. And physical healings like that do occur!

 

It may be that, for you, the experience of illness may help you learn your utter dependence on God, to learn a new patience and a new fortitude.  If that’s so, and it takes place, that’s still healing – whether or not it’s just what you had in mind.

 

And finally, you know, death itself can be a healing.  After all, death is the only thing that, finally, ushers us into the nearer presence and realm of God in its fullness. Death can be a healing. I’ve been asked many times to pray for someone (someone who may have been in terrible suffering) to die.  And I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong.

 

I’ve rarely been able to bring myself to do it. Usually I pray that God will heal, will bring that person to wholeness. If that means physical healing, fine. If that means strength and peace to live another day and the easing of pain, OK.  If that means death and the ultimate, final, healing in paradise, that’s fine too.

 

I know one thing: I’m not the healer. It’s not up to me. I am simply to pray for healing. God is the healer, and God’s diagnosis of the problem and treatment of the situation is the only important one ultimately.  I do believe it is God’s will for us all to be brought to wholeness ultimately, to be healed in that complete sense. That sense we prayed for in this morning’s Collect:

 

“Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ…” That’s the kind of healing we want. The healing which brings liberty… and abundant life. And we see it in Jesus!

 

How God chooses to do that is not up to me. It is up to God. We are simply to pray in the full assurance and confidence that God is a healer and that God desires us to be whole.  We are also to remember that any healing we may experience is not an end in itself. It’s a sign. A sign of the Reign of God. A sign that God is…that God is in charge…and that God cares.

 

Healing is meant, above all else, to bring us into a deeper relationship with God. Which, after all, is the only healing that really matters.  I think all this is summed up rather nicely in one of the prayers from our Prayer Book, one for use BY a sick person, especially one in pain:

 

“This is another day, Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.  Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus.” Amen. 

 

That’s the kind of prayer that reminds us that God is…that God is in charge…and that God cares!     

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