- STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JULY 4, 2021
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
Call to Worship Exodus 15: 26
God speaks, saying,
“If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God,
and do what is right in his sight,
and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes,
I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians;
for I am the Lord who heals you.”
Lighting of the Christ Candle
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Lord God, you are all love and compassion,
You heal our diseases and cure our infirmities.
In Jesus, you brought wholeness of body, mind and spirit, with as little as a touch or a word.
You long for us to be whole, here and now.
We confess that we are skeptical about your healing power in our world today.
We look to other forms of healing before turning to you.
Sometimes we resist being healthy. We abuse our bodies, ignore medical advice, and wallow in our emotional wounds. Sometimes we put you to a test by waiting for you to heal us, while ignoring the cures you have made available through science.
Sometimes we care more for our bodies than our spirits, obsessing about staying alive in this life but not considering eternity.
As the Church, you call us to carry on your ministry of healing.
We confess that we look at your miracles as the work of charlatans and so we are cynical.
We look at healing as the domain of professionals, instead of your domain.
Our faith is weak.
Forgive us. Restore to us a sense of calling.
We pray today to for all those with whom we worship, asking you to make them whole in body, mind and spirit.
Fill us with your Spirit that we may have the confident hope that with you all things are possible. Let us use every opportunity to bring glory to your holy name. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon Psalm 103: 1 – 4
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.
Prayer for Illumination
Holy God, as we come to read your Word, give us a hunger and thirst for what you have to say to us so that we may be healed and whole. Amen.
Numbers 21: 4 – 9
Acts 3: 1 – 10
John 9: 1 – 11
Being the Church – Healing
At some point in our lives, we all need healing. Physical healing is one need. So is healing from grief, trauma, childhood wounds, mental illness, heart break, memories and from bitterness and anger. People need to heal relationships. Communities who have been ill-treated, are victims of crime or who have been oppressed need to heal. Countries need healing within and across their borders. We are all fragile and broken in body, mind and spirit. We all need healing. Thankfully, our God heals.
In the Gospel reading Jesus heals a man who was blind from birth. The work of Jesus included healing. Healing was one of the main things Jesus did. In Acts, Peter and John heal a man who had been disabled from birth. Christ’s healing ministry continues through the Church. The Church is to be a community that heals. We are to be healers.
For healing to occur the Church needs two elements – Jesus’ Holy Spirit and faith. Sadly, both seem to be in short supply. Perhaps we have seen too many charlatans, both in the Church and outside the Church, claiming to have the power to heal in order to get wealthy and/or gain glory for themselves. We’ve become cynical. Many people wouldn’t know or acknowledge a miracle if we saw one. A man reported, “I went to a faith healing session last night. It was absolute rubbish. Even the fella in the wheelchair got up and walked out.” Jesus often made a link between being healed and faith. In a sceptical world, the Church as a whole, needs faith. We need to believe that “all things are possible with God” (Matthew 19:26) and that the God who declared, “I am the Lord who heals you” (Exodus 15:26) wants us to be healed. Faith opens us to the Spirit’s power.
Throughout my ministry, I’ve known many people who were healed by the grace of God and the prayers of the community. People who were diagnosed with cancer and given a short time to live, who were still here 15 years later. One lady is still here 40 years later. A young man who was in a car accident and told he would never walk again. He told the doctor he was going to walk down the aisle at his wedding the next year. He did just that. Just this week, Hennie and I were called to accompany a woman through her journey of death. On Sunday, she was icy cold to her shoulders. I thought she’d be gone in a day or two. The next day, she was eating a ham sandwich. She’s no longer considered palliative. In my teens, I developed pain in my stomach and lost 20 pounds in three weeks. I went to a healing service, and I was healed. I’ve known people who carried a paralyzing burden of guilt who found freedom and got unstuck. One person with PTSD, went from being a bundle of nerves, to lead a relaxed and happy life – the PTSD didn’t disappear, but it eased so it didn’t control her anymore. Like Lazarus, physical healing is not forever. One man was told cancer had spread throughout his body and he had 3 months left to live. A month later, the scan couldn’t find a trace of cancer. He believed God had healed him. Three years later, the cancer returned. He said, “This doesn’t mean that God didn’t heal me before, he did. My healing was real. God was good enough to give me a few more years with my family.” God still does miracles.
The Spirit works it’s healing power through the prayers of a community, the faith of a healer, the skill of a physician, the advancements of pharmaceutical science and technology, the gifts of the Earth, through talking and listening, through the deep desire to be whole, and through patient waiting and effort that spurns us to get better whether our illness is emotional or physical. I don’t know if time heals all wounds, but like all other forms of healing, God uses it to heal some.
Contrary to what many people think, Christians value science. Many hospitals throughout the world were founded by Churches or Christian benefactors. We go to doctors. We’re grateful for medicine, technology, and the care, skill, and expertise of all those in professions related to medicine and psychiatry. We take cancer treatments, have surgery, and take our medications. The majority of Christians follow health guidelines and have been vaccinated. Science is under God’s domain. God has blessed us with many technological and pharmaceutical advancements. The skills and brilliance of those in medical fields and research are gifts from God. The patient care of those who feed and diaper the elderly, tend wounds, or do therapy is beyond many people; it’s extraordinary. In a paradoxical way, these are innate gifts that come from beyond us. They come from the Holy Spirit.
All healing is miraculous. It’s clearly miraculous when it comes out of nowhere, through prayer or a healing touch. It’s also a miracle that people can be “put under”, cut opened, fixed up and stitched, and then wake up and continue to heal. It’s a miracle that those who are emotionally broken, can find peace and happiness, because of a tiny pill. It’s a miracle that radiation can be put into a human body, and not only do we survive the treatment, but that which is killing us, ends up killed. I often wonder, who thought to do that? Who said, “I have an idea, let’s fill this person with deadly chemicals, that’ll help him.” Even the emergence of those ideas is miraculous. All healing is the work of God. However healing takes place, there is always something unexplainable when someone is healed. There is always a risk that things could have gone wrong. There is always the possibility of human error on the part of the healer and resistance on the part of the person in need. That we are ever healed is a Spirit-infused miracle.
The Church is also a source of healing. Too often we’ve been a community of wounding. This can change. Neither Jesus nor Peter looked at the person they healed as a project, they saw them as a beloved child of God. They didn’t see them as something to be “fixed” but as a fellow human being in need of blessing. Christians cannot be part of God’s healing grace unless we truly “see” people and address their need. The preacher said, “Stand up and walk”. The man rose from his wheelchair and slowly walked. The crowd yelled in praise. The preacher asked, “How are you feeling, sir?” The man responded, “Fine, but I still can’t see.” We need to learn to set our own agenda aside. Jesus frequently asked people what they wanted him to do for them. We also need to be aware of the Spirit’s agenda. What is God’s purpose in this illness, if any? How will it be used for good? Does God want something better for this person than you or the person can imagine? It’s not up to us to take the lead or to be intrusive because it’s not about us.
To be a community of healing, we need to be people of prayer, in constant communion with Christ, drawing on the Spirit’s strength. We can do nothing apart from Christ (John 15:5). Peter and John were people of prayer. On their way to pray they met a disabled man begging to make a living. He asked for money. Peter replied, “I don’t have a nickel to my name, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” (Acts 3: 6). And then in absolute faith, he yanked the man to his feet. I wonder if, Christians today, don’t rely more on our gold and silver, than on Christ. Money buys us health care, doctors, nurses, hospitals, and equipment. We solve our relational wounds with money. We don’t need Jesus. Except we do. If Peter had given the man money, he’d have sat there until his dying day. Peter gave him much more than a few coins. He gave him the healing power of Jesus Christ. The man went to give thanks, walking and dancing, leaping and praising God. He changed. His life changed. Money can’t buy that.
To be healers, we also need to know our need for healing. Years ago Henri Nouwen wrote a book The Wounded Healer. In it, he spoke of the need for us to draw on our own stories and reveal our own woundedness to support others in their healing journey. Rick Warren, who son chose to end his life, writes, “Other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your deepest hurts.” Admitting that we are people with illnesses, wounds and needs are one of the ways the Church contributes to the healing of others. Like Jesus, we heal from a place of brokenness.
The reading from Exodus reminds us that to be healed we need to look upon the thing that bit us. To be healed we cannot ignore what is making us ill and hope it will go away. We must undergo treatment. We need to dig to the root of our ailment, whether that’s a spot of cancer, a childhood trauma or a damaged relationship. Sometimes healing is linked to repentance, which requires self-examination and confession. I have a friend whom I deeply hurt by something I said in a public forum. I had not intended to hurt anyone, but my comment definitely sounded unsupportive. At the time, I went to him to apologize. We talked and parted on better terms. I still felt uneasy, and the Spirit kept bringing the person to mind. After two years I wrote to him addressing the incident. He very graciously offered forgiveness. Our relationship has healed, and I feel lighter. Among the Church’s most wounding actions is our involvement in Residential Schools, and the horrendous abuse we inflicted upon parents and their children. Some of us are deeply grieved by this. One of our members decided to go to her indigenous neighbours and express her sorrow. She told me afterwards, “I took some ribbons and two lap quilts to the teen-age girls nearby. One quilt was penguins, and the other was loons. The father was pleased because they are part of the loon clan. The mother took pictures”. It was a small yet loving gesture in the face of a huge violation, but it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness. She did what she could and if every Christian (and every Canadian) showed that much compassion, healing would begin. The finding of the graves of the indigenous children – which will go on for years – allows the survivors to look on what wounded them, and it forces Christians and all Canadians, in an inescapable way, to look at the evidence of our sin and repent of our attitudes as well as our actions. Hopefully, out of this, healing will begin.
We need to be careful that we don’t link all illness or brokenness to sin. We live in a world permeated by sin, so people do get ill. We will all die. Our tendency, perhaps to gain a sense of safety and control, is to say that illness is the result of an individual’s sin. We reason, they must have done something to be suffering as they are. In an effort to find a simple cause and effect, we end up blaming and burdening the person (or ourselves if we’re ill) with guilt. We blame God as well because we imply that God is punishing them. This was the assumption when Jesus healed the man born blind. The disciples wanted to know if his blindness was a result of his sin or his parent’s sin. Jesus responded, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do” (John 9: 3). While illness may not be any individual’s fault, it is always an opportunity to glorify God. Even if we’re not healed, we can still bring God glory. Some people glorify God by facing illness with equilibrium and a sense of humour. I’ve visited many dying people who accepted their fate graciously, even with anticipation of what was to come and who let the staff and others know they trusted Christ. A woman whose breast cancer returned told others, “whatever happens, God will get me through this.” Ste. Therese of Lisieux used the pain of her illness to remind her to pray for others. And when God does heal, we can shout from the rooftops, that the prayers of the church were answered. There are many ways God can be glorified through an illness.
Two nurses were checking on their patients, when a man wearing doctor’s clothing shuffled into the ward. Without speaking, he moved around the room, healing everyone there. As he passed by the nurses to leave, they noticed he was also wearing beach sandals. One nurse said to the other, “Wow! Was that… Jesus?” The second nurse replied, “I think so. I didn’t recognize him at first because he wasn’t wearing his usual clothes.” The first nurse affirmed, “He was blessing in disguise.” The Church is called to embody the healing power of Jesus. We are to be Christ to the ill and wounded world around us. We are to be channels of grace. We are to be a blessing in disguise.
Silent prayer and meditation
Gracious God, we bring you our gifts thanking you for your healing power. With creation we wait this joyful anticipation until both creations and all creatures can be released into the glorious time ahead. May we, and the gifts we bring, be part of your healing process. Amen.
Hymn: I am the Light of the World
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Lord Jesus, you have given us the gift of prayer so that we may be one with you. We thank you for this amazing ability to connect with you and for your listening ear and your comforting heart.
During your life on Earth, you reached out to many people, with different needs, in many different situations bringing restoration, wholeness, and new, full life. We thank you for bringing your healing power into our world.
We thank you for the ways you have reached out to us,
in the wisdom of a word from scripture,
in the energy of a song,
in thought sparked by a sermon,
or in the insights of a friend.
Sometimes your healing has brought comfort; sometimes it has brought challenge and the call to respond.
Hear us as we seek your comfort, your wholeness and your challenge for the world, for the church and for our lives.
Bring comfort to those whose lives have been overturned by the pandemic:
Bring comfort to those who are lonely or shut in,
and to all who have lost beloved family members or friends.
Give patience to those whose work or study has become more challenging.
Give hope and employment to those who cannot find work and don’t know where to turn.
Bring wholeness to those who are ill from CoVid or a still struggling with lingering effects.
This pandemic has been a time of challenge for those who lead recovery efforts.
Guide them with wisdom and compassion when making decisions that affect the well-being of the vulnerable and those who care for them. Give them wisdom and compassion when making plans that affect the economy and our educational systems.
As we rebuild community life, challenge us all to use wisdom in our consideration of others, and courage as we re-engage within our communities.
Lord Jesus, there are many people who need your healing touch.
We pray for those who feel pain without relief, those who wait for diagnosis, and those waiting for or undergoing treatment.
Offer peace and anticipation to those who know there is no treatment and are waiting for your eternal welcome.
Challenge those want to make the world a better place,
and to all who work within science, medicine, to improve the quality of life for all people.
Give wisdom to those who work in our legal systems seeking justice for all.
Be with those who govern so that no part of society is neglected or mistreated.
Challenge those who stir up violence and unrest, who abuse and mistreat people with a sense of shame for the cost to innocent lives.
We pray for our indigenous people as they search for their lost children, as they experience grief and anger and as they heal. We remember those who are the source of their pain and pray that you would challenge them to make amends.
We pray for those who have lost loved ones or been traumatized by the collapse of the building in Florida. Heal their grief and anxiety.
We pray for those who face discrimination for any reason. Help them to find their self-worth in being your children and heirs. Challenge those whose hearts are hard, to be open to embrace those who differ from us, and yet have a place in your heart and your eternal care.
Lord Jesus, comfort your church in places where ministries struggle.
Challenge each congregation to renew their vision for ministry.
Give them courage to make life-giving changes, that will meet the needs of those beyond our walls.
Make our witness faithful to your all-embracing love which we experience in Jesus.
Be with those we know who are in need of healing, whether physical, emotional or spiritual. Bring them wholeness.
Where relationships are broken and in need of mending, give us the courage to own our part and to offer our renewed friendship.
Hear us now as we pray in the words you taught us, Lord Jesus, saying:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us;
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
Hymn: She Comes Sailing on the Wind
Invitation to Mission
We go into a world in need of Christ’s healing.
We go out in the power of the Holy Spirit,
to speak a healing word,
to reach out with a healing touch,
to offer a healing prayer
to show the world what our God can do.
Benediction May the Triune God bless you and keep you. Amen.