Healing—The calming of the storm
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
Jesus takes his disciples into the boat on the lake and they meet a storm. He is asleep in the back of the boat and when the disciples call upon him he rebukes the wind and the waves and he tells them that they must have faith. Jesus takes the disciples into the storm. It was at that time when people believed that the sea was a place where demons dwelt. If we read Revelation 21:1, 15:1-8. Heaven is described as a place without sea.
There is no sense in which the disciples are spared the trials and tribulations of life. Jesus was telling them that through the trials and the pains and the tribulations they must trust in him for their well being. Now the point is that as a Christian we are not removed from the trials and tribulations of life. We suffer and have illness and pain just as much as anybody else. So some people might be surprised and say, well if Christianity can't do anything about the illness and pain I feel then I don't want to bother. Many folk expect that miracles should surround the Christian life so that we get better, I remember seeing the advertising campaign for a Morris Cerullo healing crusade at Earls Court which showed crutches and wheelchairs empty and thrown away. I want to say to people that Christianity does make a difference, but perhaps not the difference which some people expect. Let's look at what happened on that lake when Jesus took his disciples into the storm. Jesus is the presence of God with the disciples and He is there to remind the disciples that God goes with them. If you want to look at it in this way—Jesus goes with us into whatever storm we may face and His presence with us makes a dramatic difference to our lives.
Let me give you a definition of Christian healing. Christian healing is the difference which Jesus makes. And that difference may mean simply that as you go to the operating theatre you are able to say confidently that your life is in God's hands. For this reason I find that the Christian response to even tragedy is totally different to that of the person who has no faith in God. You see it with people who are dying and with those who suffer as much—and more than, with those who seem to get well. This is not to say that Christian healing never takes place in a physical way. I am convinced of the relationship between what goes on in the head and what goes on in the heart. I have seen this with people with no faith as well as with those who have. Let me take the example of a policeman I used to work with who broke both legs and was terribly disabled. He was told he would be lucky to walk and he would never again be a policeman. His life was the police force and within a year he was back on the job. Think of Nancy Kerrigan the ice skater who had her leg broken and the amazing results of her recovery which the doctors could never imagine would occur. This simply illustrates that well being is something much more than making a person physically better.
Illness can break us and it can make us give up. I have seen people whose response to tragedy has been an inability to carry on and a desire to give up. I have literally watched people decide to die and subsequently die through no apparent cause in a matter of months. The phrase, they died from a broken heart comes to mind. For the Christian, our healing is holistic, or to use the phrase that I immediately think of, healing is about wholeness. It is with wholeness that the Christian faith is concerned. Jesus brings to the life of the individual a missing dimension which makes sense of life. If we really believe that our creation was through God then we were made to know the Creator, it is the absence of knowledge of this Creator which I believe lies at the heart of all breakdown in our society. Think of whatever kind of problem you like and I imagine that the healing touch of Christ would help sort it out. This goes from abuse of the environment and animals, where we fail to acknowledge Christ as Creator and us as custodians. Think of the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia which comes like the abuse of Blacks in South Africa from a failure to acknowledge God as making all people precious and special to Him. It was the Christian Gospel which cut through issues such as slavery, abuse of women etc.
In the episode of Jesus healing the paralytic we find an interesting situation. Jesus responds to the plight of the man who is brought to him by saying not 'you are well' but rather 'your sins are forgiven'. The man might have gone away feeling let down. Why would Jesus not sort out his physical ailment? The reason is that the physical ailment is not of such great significance as the man's soul! Jesus knew that what the man really needed was to know peace with God. That is what we all need. Bodily health is a good thing, a great thing, and yet it lasts only a short length of time. We are all decaying and growing old. So Jesus gives to the man something of lasting worth. The healing which takes place is not carried out because Jesus considers that this is important. The miracle is a miracle of a theological nature and not a medical one. I often talk with a good friend of mine who is a doctor and I say how lucky he is. He has people come and see him, they listen to what he says, do as they are told and generally think quite reasonably towards him. As a minister you campaign for people to try and come to church, they seldom listen to what you say and are full of criticism. He said to me that this was not a good understanding of his work. Apart from wanting to say that people frequently don't listen to doctors advice, he said that actually he felt rather inadequate and weak in his work. The very best that he could do as a doctor was to make a person physically better, in the sense of curing an ailment. But often the ailment is lasting, often a persons real problem was not physical but a spiritual need. As a doctor you are powerless to do anything about this and unless the Word of God makes an impact there can be no peace.
Today many churches are discovering a healing ministry and brining an attitude of wholeness, mental and bodily. The body is important. Archbishop Temple said that Christianity was the most materialistic of all religions because it's central message was that God had revealed himself in the human life of Christ. We have to recognise though that most of the modern healing are of a quite different kind than the miracles of Christ. They fall short of His mighty acts. Jesus' healings were signs of the Kingdom breaking into the world through his work. Modern healing cannot be seen in quite this way, seldom can we hear of the dead raised to life, we are more likely to hear of less verifiable miracles, ambiguous ones. Even so the New Testament is forthright in demonstrating that we do not always 'get better.'
- Paul was forced to leave Trophimus behind him too ill to travel 2 Tim 4:20
- Epaphroditus was ill and near death Phil 2:30
- Believers were exhorted to take wine for their stomachs 1 Tim 5:23
- Paul was afflicted by a thorn in the flesh.
We are not always healed—but that doesn't mean that God is unconcerned with flesh. The incarnation shows that God is involved in the physical stuff of life. There is no spiritual hide for God in which he observes us but never interferes. We cry out at the injustice of babies with AIDS -so does God. He cries from the cross. Healing comes when we realise who God is and that he is concerned. God shares with us the pain and the longing for release. He is a loving God who shares the vulnerability and pain of human flesh. At the time of Jesus, miracles were often misunderstood, Paul himself says that we see only through a glass darkly 1 Cor 13:12.
We long for this not to be so and to have compelling evidence of Gods glory. Often it comes from a lack of strength of faith, we have to feel and experience Gods power to continue to believe. This was the problem for the Pharisees Matt 12:38 Happy are those who believe who have not seen said Thomas. Jn 20:29 "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts" Is 55:8 Being a Christian does not guarantee special blessing. On the contrary the rich man burned in hell Luke 16:19. The Christian should not expect blessing because he believes. Paul suffered much for his faith 2 Cor 12:7 Suffering is not a punishment but rather a special gift from God. So Paul was able to say that we should rejoice in suffering Rom 5:3 He came to see in it a way of drawing closer to God for strength and support.
Our communion service is based around the belief that God does act in ways which we do not fully comprehend.
We can never separate physical healing from spiritual healing. So we practice the presence of Christ and in union with Him healing occurs in its many forms. The healing of the demoniac in the Gospel shows us how the human heart can be penetrated by what is inhuman and alien. We are vulnerable people and we can be invaded by irrational forces which can tear community apart and force people into isolation and competition. The Greek word for Devil derives from a root meaning to divide. The demonic is what seeks to tear the threads which bind us to one another and to God. Christ was able to bring into lives which were divided a closeness and harmony, healing. Of course it is when we practice the presence of Christ in our lives that we can discover what we require to be healed from. What our demons are. Often in the past Christians have been so pervaded by the notions of the world around that they have failed to hear God's voice. We have adopted as second nature things which are abhorent to God. Racism is now beginning to be recognised for the evil that it is, that divided men and women. So too those feeling which show contempt for other cultures and people of different states in society. However there are other evils which God will show us if we are able to hear His voice. Then, hearing His voice, standing in His presence, we will be able to bring about reconciliation and healing. We will know better how to respond to the issues of our time. The preparations for war, consumerism and waste. The terrible imbalance of power in our world which lays whole peoples open to the worst kinds of exploitation.
Spirit of freedom, jolt us out of our complacency. Some of our prejudices and convictions are utterly incompatible with the vulnerable, suffering, but victorious love of God, revealed in the Cross of Jesus. They are alien and false, and yet we excuse ourselves because they are so often taken for granted in our world. Help me to bring to you those parts of my life which are diseased. May I so know Your presence in my life that I may be liberated by Your life giving touch.