Sermon Given July 18, 2021
I’ve been going down a rabbit hole this week, trying to figure out miraculous healings. I am often okay with Jesus making them happen, after all, he is fully divine, but at the beginning of our Gospel today the disciples come back from performing miraculous healings and casting out demons as well. We’ve also been reading through the book of Acts in our cycle of daily prayer and the apostles are able to cure so many people, it’s incredible. Healings and exorcisms are part of the core of what Jesus and the disciples do and I don’t think we really examine them that much in mainstream Christian circles.
I don’t think it’s just because they are strange. I think one of the main reasons is pastoral concern and care for those who don’t experience miraculous healing. In passages like ours today, people just run and line up all their sick and suffering in rows in the marketplace and Jesus just heals them all. Everyone who was near him is well. In Acts, Peter encounters a person who can’t walk and is begging by the side of the road. Peter tells the man that he doesn’t have money, but then tells him to get up and walk, and the man does. But I think we all know people who are holy and prayerful, who have kept the faith and had to live with disease and disability all their lives. Why do some get healing and others do not? What does it mean to be healed?
I spent the summer of 2014 in CapeTown, South Africa, studying abroad. The closest church to where we were staying was an evangelical Anglican Church, one that used The Book of Common Prayer, but was deeply influenced and inspired by the evangelical churches in the United States. One Saturday they had special guests from the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri, come and lead a workshop on healing prayer. Now this IHoP is a place that focuses on intercessory prayer. They have a group at their church building praying and worshipping 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They never stop. They and I also have a lot of theological disagreements, as they are fundamentalist. But I was so curious about this church out of Kansas City coming and purposely holding classes throughout South Africa, that I went. They affirmed that God could miraculously turn things around in the body and gave testimony to some miracles that had happened at their church. Then we were invited to turn to our neighbors and give it a try. The person up front spoke about how sometimes healing happens and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s always worth a try. I think I told my prayer partner that I had a pain in my neck from sleeping wrong. They had a sore shoulder. We were two fairly healthy people trying to come up with ailments to practice healing on. We were told to put all our belief into it, to affirm that with God healing is indeed possible, we recited a prayer together with the person up front leading us. Then we were asked if anyone had felt anything. We looked at each other, shrugged and said, “I guess it’s a little better.” Our faith certainly didn’t take away the neck pain and I had a slight headache most of the rest of the day. I wasn’t sure quite what to make of it all.
My mother knows a pastor who continually seeks healing for her daughter. This pastor had adopted a girl in a wheelchair, and whenever they could, they would go to revivals and healing services, trying to bring this girl up out of her chair and onto her feet. The pastor believed that if she and her daughter truly had a moment of complete trust, if no doubt entered their minds while her daughter was being prayed over, that she would walk. This pastor blamed herself for her daughter’s continued wheelchair use, for her disability. She tried to will more faith into herself and her daughter, tried to create more faith in an effort for divine healing. And in doing so, she never accepted her daughter for who she was, never saw her as whole, but always as broken and in need of repair. This quest for healing didn’t heal her daughter, it only damaged the daughter further, instilling a sadness and disdain within her for the body she inhabited. Sometimes quests for healing lead to body shaming.
There have also been cases where much needed medications have been thrown away in the name of Jesus, only to cause hurt and despair later, as people’s bodies and brains aren’t healthy without them. I remember talking with someone about their experiences after their loved one was supposedly healed by a televangelist. They had to go back to the auditorium and ask for their loved one’s glasses back. They couldn’t afford to buy a new pair.
But that doesn’t mean that miraculous healings don’t happen, and that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray for healing. Millions of Christians around the world pray over each other every day and some are made well. But their prayers and our prayers for healing are prayers to be made whole and complete, to be at peace with our bodies and with each other. Wheelchairs are miracles. Glasses are miracles. Medicines are miracles. With these tools, we are able to do so much more within our bodies than we’d ever have been able to do before. And societal acceptance and true affection for differently abled bodies, that would be one of the greatest miracles of all.
The great scholar, Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson, has devoted much of his most recent scholarship to miracles. One thing he points out is that after the Enlightenment, the world was categorized and creation became something that happened at the beginning of the world, rather than something that is continually happening. Everything around us is constantly being birthed and dying. Our bodies have an entirely new set of cells every seven years, we physically are different people than we were eight years ago. We rely on breath, on the plants and animals and waterways around us, for sustenance. Everything is designed for continual creation. It isn’t a static thing that was put into motion in Genesis and then God stepped back and let us do our thing. God’s intimately involved in creation, and God has the power to work in and through it. Miracles aren’t weird abhorritions that go against natural laws. They are God working in and through nature, sometimes doing things we can’t explain. We live in God’s domain, and God doesn’t have to always follow our rules. God is continually engaging with creation in new and exciting ways. If we believe that we are created by God and created in God’s image, then we have the power to engage with the natural world in exciting, sometimes inexplicable ways too. We just have to be able to see all the miraculous things around us.
During the year after my experience in CapeTown, I regularly attended the Tuesday evening healing prayer service at the Episcopal Church where I was a seminary intern. After seminary, I moved to Des Moines, where I continued to attend healing services at my new congregation. What I realized as we prayed with each other, as we anointed each other with holy oil and kept in conversation, was that healing is not primarily quick instant cures. Most cures of our physical ailments are things like organ transplants, cancer treatments, getting a new assistive device or getting the right medication at the right dosage. Those are miraculous things that God has birthed into this world.
We’re called to bring everything before God and to stick with each other, loving each other through the hard times, believing that suffering can be relieved. Those who brought their loved ones to Jesus had invested years in care for each other, in mutual aid, in providing for one another. Jesus’ touch confirmed all the prayers and love that had been poured into these individuals.
I’d argue that miraculous healing isn’t primarily about the physical dimensions of our bodies at all. One priest in the Diocese of Iowa has terminal cancer. He knows exactly how he is to die. And yet, he has found healing in Jesus. Not from the physical cancer which is still within his body, but a sense of peace and wholeness that is unlike anything he has experienced before. That is his miraculous healing. Not the absence of cancer, but the ability to feel whole and complete thanks to Christ.
Healing doesn’t mean you are suddenly able bodied. It doesn’t mean that you suddenly no longer struggle with mental illness. Those things may last a lifetime. But healing comes when we are at peace with our bodies, when we are able to work with them without fighting them. It’s when others pour their love and care into us and help provide the mutual care we need to thrive. The times when we are really seen and understood, the development of love and commitment to one another and to God, the new life that is born in and around us everyday, those are the majority of the miracles that happen in this world today. We are healed when we find ourselves at peace and complete in our relationships with our bodies, each other, and our God.
Friends, what miracles do you desire in your lives today? What would wholeness look like for you? Is it possible that God is already working within us to make wholeness a reality, if we would just listen and follow our good and gracious shepherd?
It’s not easy. It often takes time, but it is possible. Thanks be to God, who is knitting us together and performing miracles in our midst every day. Amen.