Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Healing and the L Plate; A Reflection on Healing from a Series on Gifts of The Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12, 1-11, James 5: 13-20

This is the final sermon in the series I've posted on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. It's hard to look at Healing int this light as I fear that when we do we can easily get caught up in the personalities of people who are seen as miracle or faith healers  and loose sight of good solid biblical teaching.
We’ve been working our way through a series of messages looking at the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that is manifestations of the Spirit in and through us the body of Christ. Manifestations of the Spirit so that we may be the body of Christ, empowered to love and serve one another, and embody Christ in the world around us, empowerment to be witnesses to Jesus. Today we are going to finish that series by look at the gift of healing.

My oldest daughter is learning to drive at the moment. She’s got what is called a learners licence, it means she can drive a car with an instructor alongside and that one of the things she needs to do is display one of these it’s an L plate a learner’s plate. When it comes to talking about healing I have to admit that I’m a learner. I believe God heals people today in answer to prayer, that’s scriptural, we have healing mentioned in both list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 12. I believe that we should pray for people who are sick that they may be healed, that scriptural, as we had in the reading from the book of James. Healing prayer has touched my life directly, I’ve mentioned several times about my wife Kris’s experience, that at Bible College her asthma was getting worse and worse to the point that she was contemplating heading back home and not finishing her training. Then she she was healed of asthma as a direct result of Deloris Winder’s having a word of knowledge and praying for Kris.

Sadly I’ve prayed for people and they haven’t got better. As a young youth leader one of the events that impacted my life was one of our youth group girls, dying of leukaemia. Christians all round the country had prayed for her. She had gone into remission, then had the disease come back, we again prayer and she went into remission for an unheard of second time, then after several years, she again became sick and well we prayed but she died. I remember being asked to go round and take some photo’s of this girl just before she went in for her final chemo therapy so she could have a photo with her with her own hair and within a matter of weeks that photo sat on top of the coffin at her funeral.

One of the most amazing sermons I have ever heard was given by a women confined to a wheel chair who suffered from cerebral palsy. We had to crane forward to hear her words and concentrate to distinguish what she had to say as her body twitched and her speech was distorted by that. She talked of her journey and how she had been made to feel unwelcome in certain churches because they had prayed for her with faith and she hadn’t got better. They made her fell like her faith was lacking. Yet she told us of her deepening relationship with God in the midst of her suffering and the abundance of life she had in Christ.

People today say that science disproves God and takes away our need for such things as faith healing. Yet the reality is that medical science is just the application of God given wisdom and knowledge on how we are made and put together and how the created world can be used or to heal.

In our country with our welfare state we forget that the church in the past has really been at the forefront of healing. The church and Christians have played significant roles in developing what we call modern medical science. In America and Europe the oldest most established places of healing and hospitals have names associating them to various church groups and Saints. Monasteries used to be the equivalent of hospitals in early Christian Europe. They were seen as places of hospitality for the stranger, education and learning, peace and safety, succour for the poor and of healing: where the sick were tended and cared for.

WE also need to be reminded how much Christians and Christian groups are part of bring health and healing into the poorer and developing places in the world. We pray for Diane and Jim Young who are missionaries in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world. Diane is there as a doctor as a healer, using her skills and abilities and her faith, to treat both those who can afford to pay and using that to subsidise a free clinic. A recently read an article by a journalist who spoke of often being the last person out of the worst trouble and disaster spots in the world and as they were jumping the last plane out they noticed that all that was left behind were mad doctors and Christians, there to care for the poor and treat the sick and injured.

These people must be seen as being given a gift of healing. While my mum was dying someone said as they had been praying for her they had a sense that she was being surrounded by angles and I replied ‘yes she was some of them were beings of light, hid from our sight, summoned on their wings, and others were dressed in white and had come by bus. One Filipino nurse who joined as us I said the Lord’s Prayer with my mum said she was a nurse because it was how she was called to serve her master. We can often forget that all this medicine and healing and these carers are a gifts from God.

But beyond that I believe that we are called to pray for the sick and that God does heal people today through prayer.

Healing and the fall?

Sickness and death are a result of our sinful fallen world. When Christ came to conquer sin and usher in his kingdom he did not only make it possible for our sins to be forgiven but also for the consequences of the fall to be forgiven as well. I need to emphasise that I do not believe illness or disability is a result of personal sin, but of our fallen world. The book of Job in the Old Testament wrestles with the problem of bad things happening to good people and The book rejects the wisdom of the day that people suffered bad things, disasters and illness and suffering because they had done something to offend God. In Luke 13 Jesus is told of a group who meet a horrible death at the hand of Herod and he mentions an incident where eighteen people are crushed by a falling wall in Jerusalem and says these people did not suffer this because they were worse than anyone else, rather we all need to repent and turn again to God to have our sins forgiven.

Does that mean that everyone we pray for will be healed? Again in Jesus day there were many crippled folk at the pool of Solomon waiting for the waters to rippled by an angle and Jesus only healed one of them. In the church at Corinth there was a faction who thought that they had become spiritual beings like angles that because of Christ’s death and resurrection they had fully entered into the kingdom of God. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul takes great pains to explain to them about the death and resurrection of Christ and what that will mean in terms of our final destinations. He points out that we live in the tension between the already, Christ’s kingdom has come and the not yet, that there is still a final consummation to come where we will receive new bodies and eternal life. The reality is that while sin and death are defeated, death is the last enemy to be overcome by Christ. In our world in this present age, people will and do get sick and die.

Healing and faith

I hinted at it before but there is a connection in scripture between faith and healing. Jesus tells the women who had menstrual problems and is healed when she but touches the hem of his cloak that her faith has made her well. In the list of gifts we had read out to us faith is said to be a gift and it is linked with the gift of healing and the gift of performing miracles. It’s never said who has the gift of faith people who pray for miracles and healing or those who are prayed for. There is a real sense however that the faith needed for such activity comes from God, it’s not something that we can psyche ourselves up to do. It shows I think that healing comes totally from God and is as with all the gifts a sign of God’s grace. If it requires faith God is able to supply that as well.

Some teaching I often hear that connects with the idea of healing and faith comes from the prosperity doctrine arm of the Pentecostal movement; you may have heard it summed up in the expression that we should name it and claim it. That going to a doctor after you’ve been prayed for or continuing on medication is a sign of disbelief and having little faith. The press is very good at picking up stories of people in Christian fringe groups refusing treatment because they want to trust God to heal. I just have to say that I don’t see those things as being signs of doubt or disbelief. That’s not the case, you just don’t know but maybe God’s healing will come through us going to the medical profession and through medicine. Also if it is a genuine healing that takes place, it will stand up to medical scrutiny. I worked at St Columba in Tauranga for a couple of years and an elderly lady there was prayed for healing from a degenerative disease. One of elders called round to see her a week later and the women’s face was beaming, she invited her visitor into the bathroom and said look at this and took hold of the towel rail and proceeded to rise up on to her tip toes and back down to flat feet she did it about twenty times. Her visitor as perplexed until she was told before you prayed I could only do one or two at the most. A month later we were saddened to hear that this women was getting worse again. However after a visit to the doctor she was told that she had improved so much that she didn’t need the high dosage of medicine she was on any more and her decline was a side effect to too much medication. Our faith is in the one who is faithful, in Christ and that will hold up in the face of continuing medical monitoring and care.

Healing and technique
There have been many books written about healing and how to pray for people to be healed. I remember being angry one day as we as a church prayed for the youth group who had, to hear one man whom I respected suggest that the reason that she didn’t get healed was because we had not prayed against certain demonic forces in the right order. Thinking that God was not a lukemia legalist or like some over officious referee wanting to penalise people for any infringement or non compliance, that according to the scriptures our salvation and our wholeness and healing was a result of God’s grace not our work, not our technique or our process. In fact when you look through scripture there does not seem to be any techniques or tips for how to pray for the sick. Naaman the leper is told to go wash seven times in the Jordon River, Elisha doesn’t even go see him but rather sends his servant out to convey the message. Jesus healing encounters don’t really have a pattern. It moves right through from saying to some get up and walk after Jesus had forgiven his sins, spiting in the mud and making a slave for someone eyes. Something you don’t see too much in church right through to simply being told by a non Jewish roman centurion that in his army he simply tells a soldier under his command to do something and it is done, and asking Jesus to do the same. In Acts we have Peter and John being used to heal people again in a variety of ways. Paul does as well and people even get to the point of being out their sick just in case the Apostles shadow will fall on them. The closest we get to any teaching on how to go about healing seems to be in the book of James, where the author tells people who are sick to get the elders to lay hand son them anoint them with oil and pray

This hasn’t been an exhaustive look at the gift of healing. It isn’t a how to. I can’t tell you why God heals some people and other he does not. All I know is that we are called to exercise our faith and to pray for the sick to be healed. It’s amazing often when I pray for the sick I don’t see people healed but I am aware that when we pray there is a real sense of God’s presence and peace and often that is what people need as they face the situation they are in and it gives them the strength to trust God in the midst of it. We are called to walk with and show Christ like care for the sick amongst us. I am amazed at how healing a place the local hospice, run by Presbyterian Support, is even in the midst of death. I’ve mentioned it before but John Wimber the founder of the Vineyard church talked about coming from a tradition with in the Christian faith that did not believe that God healed today. However as he studied the scriptures and questioned that belief and began praying for people he was asked about God not healing everyone and he said all he knew was that he had seen more healing since he started praying for people than when he didn’t.

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