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HEALING AND WHOLENESS

 

A sermon by Rev. Richard Miller, Minister of Trinity United Church, Montreal, QC.    February 11, 2007.  Luke 6:17-26

 

They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.  And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.    – Luke 6:18-19

 

            “Healing and Wholeness” is what I have called my sermon for today.  But where to start?  Well, let me begin by saying that I grew up at a time and in a place where religious healers were known.  Not that I knew any, but there was a minister named Oral Roberts who was on the radio and television.  And it was a time when Kathryn Kuhlman was based in Pittsburgh – just an hour away, and I remember once when I was in grade 7 or 8 that there was a poster advertising that she was going to be holding meetings about two miles from where I lived.  But I never attended one of those meetings.

 

            When I went away to university and theological school, my professors and fellow students considered faith healers to be people without credibility – a sort of “lunatic fringe” of the church.  I heard many stories of people being fleeced for money, and of some who in their excitement during an emotionally charged service threw away their crutches and walked.  But the next day their physiotherapist had to start doing a lot of work all over again. 

 

            Interestingly, at the same time that I was getting a negative view of religious healers, in my classes in New Testament I was learning that the ministry of Jesus had three foci:  preaching, teaching, and – you guessed it – healing.  But, of course, that was then and this is now, and those things don’t happen anymore; or if they do, they are exceptional and they happen very rarely.

 

            And so it is interesting to me that starting about ten years ago, I began to develop an interest in healing ministry.  Even though I continue to have misgivings about the religious-healing shows on television, I feel that God has been saying to me that these shows are not the whole story.  Rather healing is an expression of God’s love and compassion for us all.  And I have felt nudged by God to find intentional ways to include healing of body, mind, and spirit as part of my ministry.  These nudges have led me in several directions.

 

            First of all, about ten years ago I was introduced to Services of Prayer for Healing.  I had read about such services in some United Churches, but had never been to one.  But then I had the opportunity, and it was a communion service with stations for prayer for healing, laying on of hands, and anointing with oil.  Often this kind of service takes place in a church, but in a less elaborate form it can also be at the hospital, or in the home.  In many churches it is a special service which is held once a month.  Here at Trinity from time to time I have offered a time of Prayer for Healing here at the front after church.  And people have responded and come.  Not a crowd of people, but those who were ready at a particular time.  Prayer for healing can be requested for yourself, for someone else, or for situations in the world.

 

            Then about five years ago I enrolled in the Healing Pathways program of the United Church of Canada.  This is a modern adaptation of the ancient practice of “laying on of hands,” and it is aimed at balancing the energy in the body.  It is similar to programs that are taught to nurses to help in pain management with their patients.  Sometimes it seems a little “hoky,” but things happen and people are often helped.   The Healing Pathways program has helped me to see that there are other kinds of ministry of healing than the TV shows. 

 

            Another more traditional thing that I did a year ago was to attend a three-day “School of Healing Prayer.”  I will be attending Level 2 next month.  And so I have been exploring healing ministry in both modern and traditional ways.

 

            I have also been doing a fair bit of reading in these areas, and one writer who has been especially helpful is an Anglican priest named Morton Kelsey.  After a long successful parish in California, Dr. Kelsey taught for many years at the University of Notre Dame in the States. In one place he identified different kinds of spiritual experience in the New Testament and tabulated how many references they are to each one.  What he found was that there are 566 references to healing and cures in the Gospels and the book of Acts – more than any other spiritual experience.  Our reading today from Luke is one of those. 

 

            I am presently reading a book entitled Soul Medicine, and it is written by a  neurosurgeon and a professor, both of whom are interested in “complementary therapies.”  It may sound strange for a recognized medical specialist to be exploring the role of faith in healing, but as we are hearing more and more undisputable evidence of spontaneous remissions, of quite miraculous cures, of the fact that the trust that patients have in the doctor may be a larger factor in their healing than what the doctor actually does – as these and many other factors are now being examined, it is becoming a whole new game in the field of medicine.  More and more the place of faith and prayer are being recognized and included.  There are doctors who pray for their patients – even some who pray with their patients.  The world has moved.  And some of these people are interested in the actions of a first-century Galilean preacher named Jesus of Nazareth, and the fact that “power came out from him and healed all of them.”  (Luke 6.19)

 

            What else can we do at Trinity?  First of all, we can continue to pray for our people who have particular needs – those who in some way are not “whole.”  You see, healing is not so much about illness as it is about wellness.  It is about our need to be whole and well in many different ways.  Let us continue to pray for one another – and for others – both here at the church, and also during the week in our own homes, that we may all be well – that we may all be whole.

 

            Another thing that we could do at Trinity would be to launch a study on healing – a time when we learn more about the healing ministry of Jesus, and also about both modern and traditional approaches to healing.  I have a copy of a workbook on The Healing Ministry of Jesus, and I would love to have a group that was interested in doing this together.  Are any of you interested?  If so, please speak to me today, or phone me this week.  I believe it could be a very interesting time of study and sharing.  Then if there were interest, we could consider offering a healing service on a regular basis.  And I am sure that other inspiring ideas would come from the group. 

 

            What we have to realize is that God wants us to be whole.  When we study the New Testament one of the things we learn is that in the original language the word that we translate as “to save” or “salvation” is also the word meaning “to make whole” or “to heal.”  And it also becomes clear that Jesus specifically sent his followers out to heal, and told them to follow in his steps and do what he had done.  Not only that, he also said that they would do greater works than he had done.  Now there is something to think about.  [pause] . . . .  And a little study in the history of the early church shows that for the first five centuries, healing was a regular part of the ministry carried out by both clergy and lay people.  In the Eastern Church it still is, but in Western Europe it gradually dropped out of sight.  Until recently.  We are now seeing a renaissance of the ministry of healing, and it is supported by the very latest of scientific research as well.  Yes, the earth has moved indeed.

 

            I began this sermon by asking where to start.  Now the question is, “Where to finish?”  Friends, let us be healed and made whole as we come to Jesus.  Let us approach him in faith believing, and let us give thanks for the healing he has already done in our lives, and for what he continues to do.  For power does come out from him, to heal us from our disease, and from our dis-(hyphen)-ease.  And as we open ourselves to God’s healing power in our own lives, let us also offer ourselves as channels through which God’s love and wholeness can flow to others as well. 

 

            Amen and amen.