Saturday, June 23, 2007

JESUS HEALS

Luke 8:26-39

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the relationship between faith and healing. Some of these studies seem a bit silly, but others help us and the medical community recognize that we’re more than the sum of our physical body parts. They also suggest that people of faith tend to recover quicker than those without faith. Though we can't always define why this is true scientifically, people of faith know intuitively that their faith gives them hope and peace, even in difficult times.

This cautious embrace of faith and spirituality by the medical community is controversial, but it’s providing benefits to many. Of course, a degree of skepticism is healthy. We don’t want to fall prey to the quacks and frauds and other purveyors of false hopes. At the same time it’s appropriate to recognize that we are -- to use a medical term -- a psychosomatic whole. Because we seem to be more than simply a mass of carbon-based atoms magnetically linked together, there may be room for God to act in the healing process.

THE GERASENE DEMONIAC

Now Jesus understood this too, because as a quick tour of the gospels shows, Jesus devoted considerable time to healing. In fact, nearly 20 percent of the Gospel texts focus on some kind of physical or spiritual healing. There’s the man with an unclean spirit and Peter's mother-in-law, a leper and a man with a withered hand, there’s Jairus' daughter and the woman with the hemorrhages. Morton Kelsey says that "wherever Jesus went he was simply besieged by the people who wanted to be healed." Even his enemies didn't "contest the fact that Jesus healed; they only tried to cast doubts upon the agency through which he did it."1

This morning we hear the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Gerasene demoniac. For some reason Jesus headed across the Sea of Galilee into Gentile territory, and as soon as he got out of the boat he was accosted by this man who runs out of the cemetery naked and shouting incoherently at Jesus. Obviously this guy’s out of his mind! Tormented and seemingly beyond help, his neighbors tried to chain him up, but he broke loose and hid out in the cemetery – homeless, naked, and forgotten.

Running up to Jesus, he throws himself at the Master’s feet. But we quickly discover he’s of two minds, he wants help from Jesus, but part of him resists. He shouts at Jesus: "What do you want of me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?"
He wants help but he also resists. Jesus could have turned away from the man, but he doesn’t. Despite the resistance and the fact that this guy was probably a Gentile, Jesus reaches out with compassion. And that’s the way Jesus was and is: even when we push him away, he continues to pursue us, offering us the opportunity to drink from the healing waters of life. Our resistance to this offer can be strong, because our inner demons will often not let go of us. But in the end, Jesus quiets this man’s tormented soul and restores him to wholeness.

GOD'S HEALING PRESENCE

It’s clear from the Scriptures that God is the source of healing. But if this is true, we have some questions to face. People will ask – if God heals, then why doesn't God heal everybody? That is a good question, and not all the answers Christians give are helpful. Some say that God healed then but not now – but that doesn’t make much sense. Others say that God will heal you, if you have enough faith. But that sounds kind of cruel, and besides this guy doesn’t seem to have all that much faith and Jesus healed him. And, I’ve known people with plenty of faith but who were never healed physically.

My former youth minister died several years ago from stomach cancer. He was probably in his early 40s then, was married, had children, and pastored a church. He believed in healing and his church practiced it and prayed for it. They prayed intensely and continually that Steve would be healed. They claimed his healing and kept everyone away who didn't believe that God would heal him, including his own mother. If all it took was faith, then surely Steve would be alive today.

So what do we do with these texts? If God is the one who heals, then maybe we’ve misunderstood what healing truly is. Maybe, healing and curing aren’t the same thing. I believe that healing does take place – often in the context of the gifts offered by modern medicine, psychotherapy, and other therapies. But I also know that not everyone ends up cured. So, perhaps healing can take place even if no cure for what ails us is found.
And so, in my reading of Scripture, it seems appropriate to come before God and ask God’s blessing for people who are hurting. It’s also appropriate to anoint the sick, the injured, and the dying with oil, as a sign of God’s grace. We do this praying that the one we love will experience wholeness of body, mind, and spirit, and knowing that healing comes in different forms. It could be physical, but it might also be spiritual.
The Greek word for healing can be translated as salvation and wholeness, and so healing can include finding peace in the midst of our suffering, even as it might also involve freedom from suffering.
In the early church, when a person was sick, they called for the elders to come and anoint the sick with oil and pray for them. In part this was because oil was then believed to have medicinal value, but it was also done with a prayer for God’s presence in the healing process. It is also a reminder that faith and medicine are not two ships passing in the night, but they can work together in the pursuit of wholeness. And when taken together, we find hope, comfort, and strength.
And when we find that we’re whole again – whether or not we’re cured -- it’s appropriate to share the good news. That’s what Jesus told the Gerasene man to do. Go, tell you neighbors, let them know what’s happened to you. And the same is true for us – when God has touched our lives, we’re called to make that known to the world.
  1. Morton Kelsey, Healing and Christianity, (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1995), 45.
Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Lompoc, CA

4th Sunday after Pentecost

June 24, 2007

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