Acts 16:9-15 and choice of gospel today: John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9
I read the first of the gospels and then preached this:
In our first reading we hear about Lydia, a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. May the Lord open our hearts today to respond to my message.
We had a special Deanery Synod this week with a focus on healing ministry. Rev’d Paul Howard is the Stoke Area Healing Ministry Enabler. He was telling us about the way that he moved from thinking healing was just something that happened in the bible and that the real job was to evangelise and bring people to faith in Jesus to coming to understand that Jesus still calls us to pray for healing and to experience his healing in our lives. We also heard stories of people who had been healed.
As you know I do not need to be persuaded or convinced – I have introduced prayers for healing in this church. I would be interested in how you feel about it. Not just those of you who have felt touched by God and it has been positive. But perhaps some of you are not in favour of it and tolerate it as the vicar’s mad idea. I hope it doesn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable.
I have been feeling a bit stressed this last couple of weeks. Nothing to do with church or ministry. We’ve bought a house and it needs work doing on it. I spent almost the whole of Friday planning a kitchen. And I need to do battle with electricity companies – both for the supply at the vicarage and the new house.
The result of that is that I just couldn’t settle to write a sermon on Thursday. I was restless and ended up pottering about, doing a bit of this and a bit of that – admin stuff etc.
I have decided that to help with the stress I need to return to the habit of meditation. Ten minutes each morning – it should help. I’m reminded of the words of the Collect for the 17th Sunday after Trinity:
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you:
pour your love into our hearts and draw us to yourself,
and so bring us at last to your heavenly city
where we shall see you face to face;
There’s a sense of an ongoing journey of moving nearer to God’s presence, knowing his peace in our hearts until at last we see him face to face – as famously put in 1 Cor 13 and the hymn Love Divine. We are destined for heaven, along with all those who’ve gone before us. And how do we get there? By the power of God at work in us. St Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus:
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
I give thanks for your work and love towards others – saints or not – the wonderful hospitality of this church – the soup last Saturday for us walkers was delicious. Thank you. Many of you have put in many years of serving the community of Denstone. Yes, like Paul, I give thanks to God for you
According to Paul, the power God used to raise Jesus from the dead is at work in us! Jesus, just before his death, told his disciples that it was GOOD he was going away so that another might come: the Holy Spirit and that we would do greater things than him!
Jesus’ whole ministry on earth was, amongst other things, a demonstration of God’s kingdom at work. We pray Your Kingdom Come, your will be done… in the Lord’s Prayer. What do we mean by God’s kingdom? Jesus was known as a Prophet and behaved like one. But Jesus isn’t like any other prophet that had gone before him and so his followers had to learn what it means to be part of that kingdom.
If you want to see a living example of the Kingdom of God look at Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus’ life was full of great teaching and miraculous works, healing the sick and driving out demons. But there were still those who couldn’t see it! They expected a very different Kingdom where the Messiah would drive out the occupying Romans in an uprising.
When John the Baptist, in prison, sent word to see if Jesus was the one, the reply he got was:
‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’
Jesus makes it clear that the kingdom of His Father looks like a world restored, a new creation and a new order in which people are healed and the good news is proclaimed. The two seem to go together.
Today I want to focus on healing for 3 reasons:
1. One of the gospels set for today is a healing – not the one I read, but a quick glance shows you it is the man who wanted to go into the pool, but nobody helped him. Jesus told him to take up his mat and walk. And he did.
2. Terry and I think it is time to start having the quiet days for healing, wholeness at Croxden again. So this might help some of you make up your mind whether you want to go or not.
3. The ministry team have been thinking about the way that we offer prayers for healing in the churches. We wonder if perhaps instead of a simple quick prayer for everyone with your communion that there might be the opportunity for individual longer prayer after the service. Logistics are an issue without a side chapel. But if you think it is worth exploring give it some thought.
Could the 3rd Wednesday service on one occasion be a healing service? What do people think?
If one gospel is a healing, then the other we have Jesus saying:
“ 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Are the gospels so very different? Perhaps not.
We all want peace – God’s peace in our lives – and many of us experience it from time to time. That peace is summed up in the Hebrew word Shalom which is what I believe Christian healing is all about. Shalom, usually translated “peace” is a rich word meaning peace, wholeness, completeness and well-being.
The Bible and Jesus take it for granted that human beings are a whole. I am not a body occupied by a mind or a soul but a whole person. If I am ill I may also be worried, stressed and God may feel far away. My mental and spiritual faculties are all affected. We know that worry and stress can cause physical illness and mental illness.
We also know that rest, recreation and a good hobby can prolong life and make it richer. We know that a positive attitude can fight off cancer and prolong life.
God therefore doesn’t want to merely heal my sore knee but the whole of me. That is why healing is meant to be holistic in the best sense of that word.
There is a lovely blessing which is often used in Church and found in Numbers chapter 6, it goes like this:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.
Literally read it goes like this:
The Lord bless you – the whole of you – and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon the whole of you and be gracious to you. The LORD lift up his face upon all of you and give you shalom, wholeness, peace and completeness not just for parts of you…..!
Many a doctor will tell you that it is often just when a patient is leaving the consulting room that they say, “actually doctor while I’m here can I mention…….” They had come with a sore throat or something but the real problem was a relationship or an addiction….. God sees our deepest needs and wants to heal us there where it really hurts.
How does God heal?
This has many answers and we can’t look at all of them today but:
- instantly – or after much prayer over many occasions
- through natural processes
- sensible health care
- modern medicine
God can do miracles – ask Terry – he’s seen many, many occasions where a sick person has become well at the moment of prayer and he’s seen many where they do not! He has shared a few stories with you. There are unwise Christians who have said throw away your pills and ignore the medics and just trust in God – that is both unwise and un-Biblical! God is a creator God and the things we see around us are his. Modern medicine is his gift as much as anything is.
God also heals through sensible health care. The Bible tells us that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit – it would be an insult to the HS if we let that temple go to rack and ruin would it not? Proper health precautions, sensible eating and regular exercise are what we owe to God if we are able……
Getting back to the question of prayer for healing, it often happens that healing is delayed or needs ‘several goes’ or continuing prayer – this is not a second best or inferior in any way.
This brings us onto the obvious question and that is what about those who are not healed? Let’s say some things this is NOT
- sin from a previous life!
- Lack of faith
- suffering is somehow good for us
- a cross to bear!
We don’t have time to elaborate in these but perhaps we will another time.
It’s also good to remind ourselves that not everyone in the bible was healed. The disciples failed, Paul had his thorn in the flesh to deal with and even Jesus didn’t heal everyone – not that he couldn’t but that he didn’t. Even Lazarus eventually died.
We have to be sensible about such things. God does heal, Jesus wants to heal and does heal today in many ways but not always in the way we expect or by our timescales.
Prayer for healing can bring us nearer to God, opening ourselves to more of the fruit of the spirit growing within us.
So as we come to God with prayer for healing what does God expect of us?
- To want to be healed… Jesus asked the man at the pool if he wanted to be healed. And when the man gave his reasons for being there so long, Jesus instantly told him to get up – and the man did.
- to have faith that God can heal us. Jesus said to Jairus about his daughter, “only believe and she will be healed” Faith is important to healing.
- Be prepared for God to give you Shalom – you may end up with more than you asked for. God’s desire for you is peace and wholeness, a peace which the world cannot give in a loving relationship with Jesus. This is the kind of healing God offers you and me today and every day.
This is all part of a bigger picture too. Let’s not forget that God’s kingdom is for the whole world. The healing ministry of Jesus continues today for us, for our communities, for nations and ethnic groups and for the whole world.
In my prayer time this morning I focussed on a verse from psalm 108
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth. (vs5)
Then whilst eating breakfast and reading an article in the Church Times I came across this quotation: “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.” It’s by a 2nd Century theologian, Irenaeus.
Sunsets can be glorious and we often say we see the glory of God in nature. However, WE display the glory of God when we allow him to heal us and restore us, enabling us to become the glorious people he made us to be.
My sermon ended here. I was preaching in the afternoon at a Rogation service on a local farm and ended a reflection (pinched from a book so I won’t blog it) with this:
Today is the 6th Sunday of Easter and known as “Rogation Sunday”. This is because the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the following week are known as the “Rogation Days,” days for fasting and prayer. The Thursday of that week is the feast of the Ascension, which comes on a Thursday, the 40th day after Easter.
Why not spend some extra time in prayer (even if you don’t fast) asking God to bless you, that you might be more fruitful in your life? The days between Ascension and Pentecost are a time of waiting on God and preparing to once again receive the Holy Spirit into our lives.
I should have taken it to church with me but I forgot. I started the day by waking up too early (about 4am) and then had a mild headache which persisted until I got home after the morning service. However, I am pleased to say that it had cleared after a walk by the river and some time to think and pray.
I have to confess that this week’s sermon was what I like to call a Blue Peter sermon. The children’s TV programme from my childhood always had ‘here’s one I made earlier’ when the presenters were making something. Most of this sermon is one I preached 3 years ago. But still timely. After the synod on Monday I decided I would preach about healing this Sunday, IF there was a reading about healing. And there was, so I did!