Year B; Proper 18; 9.9.2018
One of the most faithful ministries of St. Paul’s is tending to the sick. In fact, there are several ministry teams that look after those who are sick, lonely, addicted and depressed. The Lay Pastoral Visitors make regular visits to those who aren’t able to come to church. They keep the names of those whom we visit and pray for them. They make updates and we communicate to each other any time news comes to us about the health status of anyone who asks for visits and prayers. It’s one of our foundational ministries, and let me put a plug in NOW for volunteers! Please contact me if you feel called to this ministry!
Another group is the Healing Ministry Team. The first and third Sundays of every month all year long this team offers the Laying on of Hands for healing during worship. They offer anointing with healing oil as a mark of the promise of Christ’s healing offered for all.
“The Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement” – I love to use this phrase that Michael Curry coined for us – “The Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement” firmly believes in the promise of God’s healing power. If you want to know what Episcopalians believe about healing, go to the Book of Common Prayer. There are 10 pages devoted to what we call “Ministration to the Sick.” There, you will find one of the most powerful prayers of healing in the prayer book.
“I lay my hands on you and anoint you with oil in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, beseeching our Lord Jesus Christ to sustain you with his presence, to drive away all sickness of body and spirit, and to give you that victory of life and peace which will enable you to serve him both now and evermore.”
Don’t you love this powerful language? To “drive away all sickness of body and spirit”?
Can’t you see the resurrected, victorious Christ, standing on his tomb saying, “get out of here demon sickness, demon addiction, demon dementia, demon cancer, demon heart disease…oh, you name it! Get out of here!”
“…and give us that victory of life and peace” – powerfully and boldly we beg for God to “give us that victory…” Don’t let this sickness defeat us. Your will be done is our victory, God!
When we beg for healing, we can expect to be made whole by the God who created us and whose purpose is to love our bodies, our lives, our spirits, our souls, and one day give us the victory God gave Jesus. That is the miracle of healing.
Jesus was sent to show God’s people God’s healing power. Clearly, the Syrophoenician woman in the story from Mark’s gospel, saw his healing miracles and begged him to heal her daughter of the demon inside her. Having nothing in common but their humanity, she followed him and begged him to cast out that demon from her daughter.
She was determined. She bowed down at his feet. She begged. Nothing was going to stop her from making a claim on his promise of healing – she had seen him heal others with her own eyes! She was sure that the promise of healing was meant for her, too. She was not taking “no” for an answer! Even after Jesus turned her down, she knew that God’s promise of healing was meant for her and her daughter.
What followed her story in Mark’s gospel was another healing. This time the afflicted person was a man who was deaf – he could hear nothing and he could not speak. He had no voice to speak up and advocate for himself. Those around him were the ones who begged Jesus to heal him. They too made a claim of healing from Jesus. And so, Jesus literally laid hands on the man, touching his ears, spitting and touching his tongue, demanding, ephphatha, “be opened!”
Without delay, his ears were opened, his tongue released and he spoke plainly.
I have no trouble believing that a significant ministry for Jesus was healing the broken, the sick, the lame, the blind and the demon-possessed. I believe that God desires to make us whole as God intended for us to be – in this life and in the life to come – and God sent Jesus to show us that healing is God’s desire.
Sometimes, though, I do struggle to understand that some people receive the miracle of healing and others don’t. I had hoped for some kind of healing, or at least one more year with John after he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.
I would have considered a year to have been a “healing” miracle. But that was not to be. We had two months. After John’s death, I wondered if I could really believe that God had freed him from his terrible illness.
Our great faith says, “yes” we can believe this. Don’t we sing hymns like, “The strife is o’er, the battle done; the victory of life is won?” to affirm the truth of God’s last word of “new life” in death?
My colleague and friend, the late Reverend Cynthia Carlson preached resurrection all the time. She was the honorary associate rector at Grace Church in Plainfield, New Jersey. Her strong faith came out of terrible suffering.
Before she went to seminary and became a priest, “Mother Cynthia,” as we called her, was a very wealthy woman. She was beautiful, athletic, drove great cars and lived a life of luxury. But she was in an abusive marriage. She found Christ’s healing and solace in the Episcopal Church and became a Christian. Her faith saved her after her violent divorce, and she eventually entered seminary.
She graduated a year ahead of me, fell in love with her friend and tennis partner Bob, a faithful, loving Methodist man. She married him right after seminary graduation. Her ordination to the diaconate was to be a few weeks later.
Cynthia was ordained in the cathedral in Trenton, New Jersey with about five others on a hot day in June. Suddenly, as she was serving the consecrated bread to the people at the altar rail, she collapsed. She’d had a brain aneurysm.
She was rushed to the hospital, and her new husband Bob was given the responsibility to decide whether or not she should have surgery to repair the aneurysm. The risk of not operating was that she could bleed and die. But the risk of having surgery was that she could have a stroke and be permanently paralyzed.
He chose surgery. She had a massive stroke that almost killed her. But she worked hard in rehab and after a year, was able to maneuver in a wheelchair. She served Christ at Grace Church in a wheelchair for several years before she was able to get on her feet and walk with a cane. It was then that the bishop agreed to ordain her to the priesthood.
Eventually, she was able to use her cane and walk in procession with the choir and me down our long aisle at Grace Church. She would slowly climb the chancel steps, make her way up to the altar and celebrate the Eucharist with one hand. She was able to preach inspiring and good sermons from the very high, carved oak pulpit that she would slowly climb to preach, cane in hand.
Cynthia would say to me, “Carolyn, I know that God’s healing never stops in this life and the next. God is always healing me. God wants me to be whole. That’s why I know that in death, the burden of my paralyzed body will be lifted and I will play tennis again and dance. That’s what I really want to do – dance. The minute I die, I will be whole again.”
And so when news of her death came to me a few years ago, my sorrow was alleviated by her words of faith. It brought me comfort to imagine Cynthia skipping around joyfully, serving God in her new existence and knowing God’s healing love.
THIS truly is the “…victory of life and peace,” to be able to serve Christ in this life and the life to come.