Healing and wholeness: Romans 8:18-23 & Mark 6:54–end
I don’t know if there is a word or a phrase that sets your teeth on edge or makes you want to run for the hills? If you are a Northampton Saints fan, like me, Leicester Tigers would be such a word. When I was at theological college, the words ‘creative worship’ got me extremely hot and sweaty under the collar. I suspect that ‘healing’ is a word that gets many people in church exercised. It’s a scary word, a word that implies loss of control, or perhaps even unanswered prayer. Many of us will have prayed for someone to be healed from a disease or affliction, and seemingly have had our prayers ignored or unanswered. So, we have a problem with the concept of healing.
The problem is, however, that if we exclude the healing miracles from the gospels then what we would be left with is a very thin set of texts; healing was central to the life and ministry of Jesus. Okay, you might say, that’s fine, for Jesus was the Son of God, he possessed a unique set of powers that we don’t have. And this is true. But does this therefore mean that we shouldn’t pray for healing and wholeness? Does this mean that healing and wholeness shouldn’t be part of our ministry? The straightforward answer is an unequivocal ‘no.’ So, what can we do and what should be our aim regarding our healing ministry? Should it be to insist on the seemingly miraculous and to revel in the supernatural? Well, without ever wanting to downplay the miraculous and the supernatural, I am not sure that it should.
Our starting point should perhaps be to take the ‘sufferings of this present time seriously’, in the knowledge that even though they hurt, they are indeed transitory, and, as Paul suggests, ‘not worthy of the glory that is about to be revealed to us.’ Suffering is temporary, but glory is eternal. This is something we need to hang on to. This doesn’t mean, however, that pain and suffering are somehow irrelevant and less than real. Pain and suffering are what they say on the tin - pain hurts, it really hurts, and suffering saps the soul. If we are to take healing and wholeness seriously, we need to hold pain and suffering gently in one hand and glory in the other. We also need to resolve to do something about pain and suffering. In the epistle, Paul reminds us that pain and suffering isn’t limited to human beings, for he insists that ‘creation has been subject to futility,’ and needs to be ‘set free from the bondage of its decay.’ The church’s healing ministry is therefore linked to its environmental ministry, through which we are called on to be stewards of creation. Through the way we spend our money and the choices we make, we both should and can help heal ‘creation.’
Phew, you might now be thinking. That lets us off the hook with regard to human pain and suffering - except it doesn’t, for Jesus, ‘the perfecter and pioneer of our faith’, took human pain and suffering seriously. In fact, he took it so seriously that he went to the cross bearing the full weight of human pain and suffering. Throughout his ministry, Jesus healed the sick and the suffering, and he also encouraged all who were carrying heavy burdens to come to him for rest and recuperation: ‘come unto me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.’ We need to be the sort of people, and the sort of church, which provides the opportunity for people to share their burdens and to get some rest. The church should be a therapeutic community that offers alleviation from pain and suffering in the here and now, alongside the promise of the glory that is to come.
Healing, you see, happens in community, and if we look closely at the healing miracles, perhaps the biggest miracle is not in fact the physical healing but the transformation of relationships. Healing is intimately concerned with inclusion and restoration, whereby outsider becomes the insider. A church that takes healing seriously is a church that takes equality in human relationships seriously.
A church that takes human relationships seriously is also a church that takes prayer seriously, for as we heard in the Gospel, the people ‘began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.’ Are we bringing the sick and the suffering to God on our metaphorical prayer mats, asking that they will know the ‘peace of God which surpasses all understanding’, for this level of deep peace is the bedrock of all true healing and wholeness?
So, even as a temporarily dispersed community, lets recommit to doing four things:
- Taking the sufferings of the present time seriously and feeling them in the depths of our hearts
- Renewing our faith in the ‘glory which is to come’
- Resolving to be a hospitable community, one that welcomes all, irrespective of health or status
- Getting down on our knees – on our proverbial prayer mats – and bringing to Jesus those who are suffering in the here and now
If we do these four things, we will be a genuinely therapeutic and healing community, Amen.
Pentecost : Acts 2:1-21 & John 20:19-23
That first Pentecost must have been a very strange experience for all who experienced it. This Pentecost is also very strange for us, as we experience it. Experience, you see, sits at the very heart of Pentecost. And the experience we are talking about is that of the very presence of the Holy Spirit; the Spirit that breathed life into the church. Pentecost isn’t the result of theological thinking, human reasoning, doctrine and dogma, but is the action of an activist God who has charged his church to keep building the Kingdom of God, ‘here on earth as in heaven.’
So, the question for us simply becomes this: are we open to the living presence amongst us of the Activist God? The God who wants to shape not only our language but our behaviour - in fact, our entire orientation to the world? The health warning is this: if we want to keep our faith secure, quiet, passive and domesticated, Pentecost is not for us. If we believe in preserving the status quo at all costs, then again, Pentecost is not for us. If we prefer to stay quiet and render our faith a purely private matter, then again, Pentecost is simply not for us. And, whilst I am at it, if we believe that because we are not all gathered in one place at the same time, like those first Christians, then the Holy Spirit is not alive and desirous of working among us and through us, then Pentecost is not for us.
Pentecost is a day in the liturgical calendar, a great feast of the church, but it is so much more than this: it is God’s invitation to continually and literally be continuously inspired by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit; the Spirit who is ‘alive and active,’ and whose role is to make sure that we too remain ‘alive and active.’
An amusing anecdote. This week, as a response to Mark’s Little Acorns YouTube, one of the children was discovered by their mum drawing a collection of Holy doves. He drew a dove in a tree with a koala, a dove with a fire engine, a dove with a policeman arresting a baddy, a dove with a car mechanic. Why did he do this? The answer is fairly obvious: The Holy Spirit is everywhere, that is if we are open to God breathing His Spirit into us, both individually and collectively, as the Body of Christ.
But again, the health warning: to be open to the Holy Spirit means being open to the active and activist God, the God who wants us, his people, to be ever more lavish and hospitable, the God who wants to take us out of our every comfort zone; the God who wants us to learn to communicate His love for all in new ways, in diverse tongues; the God who wants us to become theologically bilingual; the God who wants us to speak in the vernacular as people, all sorts of people, will understand it, for you see Pentecost is the fulfilment of a very special prophecy, the Song of Simeon, where if you remember the earliest sage of the church makes the most astonishing of Spirit-filled declarations: ‘my eyes have seen the salvation that you have prepared in the sight of all people, alight to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.’ Our job as Spirit-filled Christians is to offer the Christ-light to all people, in the vernacular that they will understand.
Two more health warnings: first to be inspired by the Holy Spirit also means to be a person who is demonstrably – for a Spirit-inspired faith will always be demonstrable – committed to the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation. This is the up front and activist message of the short gospel reading set for today: ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them: if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ What a sobering thought: we, through our willingness to forgive or otherwise, have the power to either liberate others or to keep them imprisoned within the walls of their own failings.
My final health warning is this: if we are to be truly inspired by the Holy Spirit, the universal and activist Spirit, then we should, like Simon Peter on that first Pentecost, be prepared for some pretty difficult conversations for part of the role of the Spirit is to equip us to speak truth, Christian truth, to power. This is what it means to be prophetic, and as we know from Jesus’ own experience ‘a prophet is without honour in his own country.’
Pentecost is one of the great festivals of the Church but it is so much more than this. It is the invitation to be inspired by the indwelling of the Activist God, the God who desires nothing more than to reach out and speak to all people in all places, in tongues they can understand, offering the hand of forgiveness, reconciliation, liberation and friendship.
Pentecost is God’s invitation into a life of Holy Dishonour for the sake of the building of the kingdom here on earth as in heaven,
I think it is fair to say that nobody has the potential to wind us up quite like family can. Whether that is parents, siblings or children when we live together, we all learn just how to press each others buttons to get maximum effect. There are certain things that my family do that are always guaranteed to get me riled up.
Firstly, we have the teenaged, monosyllabic, shrugging grunt when something is unknown. Something that I am absolutely sure I did when I was that age but we will leave that there. The other is on the car journey and being asked those 5 words, 5 little words that are asked over and over without thought and can destroy any enjoyment that a car journey (remember them?) can have.
ARE WE NEARLY THERE YET?
Sometimes it gets asked through eagerness or boredom and in extreme cases can be asked before you have even left the street. And of course it all depends on that word “nearly”. If my family are heading back to Scotland and I get to within an hour of our destination then Yes, we are nearly there. But if we are going to the supermarket (not something that we have done as a family since the lockdown) we would only nearly be there in the last few hundred yards. It is all relative.
Nobody likes to wait, waiting in line at the checkouts of the supermarket is nobody’s idea of fun. Waiting for an important letter to arrive, for exam results, for someone to get out of the shower are all things that few of us actually enjoy. But there are times in our lives that the only thing that we can do is to wait. Waiting is an inevitable part of life, and that was never truer than now.
Take just now for instance. With us all still in the grip of lockdown, a lockdown that looks as though could be with us for a while and will then be slow in its easing we are facing the dawning of a new reality. And as we start to see what that reality will be, we are forced to wait, to wait and see what emerges. This won’t be rushed, this can’t be rushed, we have no choice but to just wait… to watch and to wait.
There is a wonderful passage from psalm 130.
My soul is waiting for the LORD.
I count on his word
My soul is longing for the LORD
More than the watchman for the daybreak.
Let the watchman count on daybreak
And Israel on the LORD (Psalm 130:5-7)
People have been watching and waiting for as long as there have been people.
In the Acts of the Apostles reading that we have just heard there are 3 distinct groups of people waiting, You have the remaining Apostles, you have the women from Galilee and you have Mary, with the brothers of Jesus. It tells us of people coming together, coming from different lives, all connected to Christ in different ways, with different histories but those three groups come together to become one community, this will become the church.It is only when they come together that the picture of Jesus becomes more complete. It is only when they are together that there are witnesses to the whole of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
The Apostles who were there from the time of Jesus' baptism until his crucifixion. You have the women of Galilee who were the first to learn of His resurrection in the empty tomb – something that was not witnessed by the Apostles and then you have Mary, Mary who was there from the beginning and at the end. They come together in prayer as they wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Just as we come together in prayer to bear witness and take part in the works of the Holy Spirit, just because we are in lockdown does not mean that the Holy Spirit is in lockdown, He is working harder than ever!
God came to them then and He comes to us now. The exact word used in the passage is the word “dynamis” from which we get the word Dynamite or dynamic, that in itself tells us something of the nature of God. It bursts forth from the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times.
Jesus had a clear roadmap that He gave His disciples, first Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria (a neighbouring country that was not well liked at all) then the rest of the world.
Just like for those original disciples, the world has now changed for us. We find ourselves in a new reality but we are called to make sure that as we emerge from this lockdown, God’s voice is heard, His Kingdom proclaimed.
The adventure of the Holy Spirit has come before and it comes now. We are nearly there, let us keep going!
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