There was a man in my Pentecostal church when I was a teenager who had leukemia, and we prayed for him to be healed, oh we prayed, and you know what? he got better. He had been on death's door and we prayed and he got better, and he started to go around to various churches and tell everyone how God had healed him.
And I finally had proof that God healed. I had heard that God had healed people. In fact, I had met people who said that God healed them, but I always had my doubts. But this man, oh, this was incontrovertible, this was a definite healing. On death's door with Leukemia, and he got better.
And then several months or a year later my friend's cancer came back. I had never heard of the term "remission" before. My mother said, it was a miracle that he got the extra time, but it was no consolation to me, because he died a short time later.
That is just one of the stories or events in my life that has made me question and struggle with healing. It is not that I don’t think that God and Jesus heal, but trying to understand the place of healing in our world today, and the so-called Christian understanding of healing.
The thing is, as you might well know, the Christian understanding of healing is as diverse as there are different denominations.
There are those who maintain that anything that happens in the bible happens today and we should expect it and if we don’t receive healings, it is our lack of faith.
There are those Christians who don’t believe in going to a doctor. I actually know someone whose sibling died many years ago, in part because the devout Christians parents believed in prayer more than doctors, who might not be Christian.
There are those who take up snakes and get bitten believing that their faith is an antidote to snake venom.
There are those who believe that faith healing is a total load of crap, to put it bluntly. There is no supernatural power that can heal a person. It is all science.
And I suppose there is a whole range of in-between. There are those who see God working through doctors.
I have said before that there are many more healings today than in Jesus’ day. It is just that most of those healings take place with doctors and medicine and not by prayer alone.
Some see miracles more metaphorically, and I confess that I see that many of the miracle of Jesus speak to larger issues.
In Jesus’ day nobody thought miracles were impossible. The fact of a miracle was readily believable, so those who read the scriptures first didn’t think that the message of the miracle was… that God could do miracles.
They could often see the deeper implications of the miracles. Miracles for Gentiles spoke to the inclusiveness of the gospel. Miracles for the poor had a deeper message. Miracles over the sea. Miracles about feeding that hearkened to the manna in the wilderness. A lot of miracles have deeper significance which sometimes is lost in a 21st century church which argues more about the existence of miracles, that in what the message God is revealing in the miracles.
I am not here to tell you exactly what to believe in… whether God does supernatural miracles today and exactly how God does them. I am certainly not here to offend believers at either end of the miracle/healing spectrum, or those in between.
The one thing I think is very true, is the from a very historical point of view one of the incontrovertible facts about Jesus was that he had a ministry of healing. I think we might all differ on how we understand that, but I think a lot of us agree that Jesus was in the healing business.
The corollary is that a lot of us would agree that the church should be about healing.
One of the books I recently read on study leave was by the late Rachel Held Evans, who book was called Searching for Sunday; loving, leaving and finding the church.
Rachel grew up in a very conservative Christian family and church in the Bible belt in the United States and this book tells some of her story of loving Jesus, yet being disenfranchised from the church institution, and her path back to church and to her own resurrection back into the body of Christ.
In her chapter on healing, she talks about the wounds the church itself would bring on people who are already wounded.
She mentioned someone she called Claire who had a still-born baby. Her husband was on the staff at their local church.
The church was supportive in those first few moments, helping with funeral costs and meals…
But in a church congregation that mainly sings praise songs, what are the praise songs for those mourning the death of a child.
And Claire’s prolonged struggle with grief was not the theology or journey of the congregation. Claire heard lots of platitudes, and she heard lots of bible verses, and she heard lots of people saying it will get better.
But it didn’t get better and she felt she didn’t fit in any more.
And Rachel writes that this is a common experience. She had lots of letters and emails from people who fit right into their church until…
Until the divorce…
Until the diagnosis…
Until the abortion…
Until someone comes out..
Until someone asks a difficult question…
Until someone voices an uncomfortable truth…
Until someone challenges accepted doctrine…
You see in a results-oriented church or congregation, it is all about curing the problem, or the pain as soon as possible and getting back to the praise choruses. So, scripture is called up, assurances are given, if you have enough faith, it will all be fixed and go away.
But what we really need is to enter a healing process. The word “compassion” comes to mind. It literally means to suffer with the other. It is to enter their journey and to travel with them along their path of grief or pain, not trying to fix or cure, or make that person have your journey, but simply sharing their journey, hearing it, feeling it, understanding it…
Healing is about have a real relationship with the one who is suffering and it doesn’t follow a nice neat path straight to wonderful resolution.
And there is so much healing that has to take place in this world. Pain and hurt is everywhere.
There are just so many people who have suffered or who are in pain, who are not being heard, or understood, or listened to. So many people who are walking a lonely road without a community walking with them… sharing their pain.
And the church has to confess to causing as much pain as it heals sometimes.
Sometimes the church judges. Sometimes it points fingers. Sometimes it blames. Sometimes it doesn’t want to listen. Sometimes it acts superior. Sometimes it lays guilt trips on people. Sometimes it excludes. Sometimes it is holier than thou. Sometimes it just downright selfish. Sometimes it inwardly focused on serving its own members and forgets about reaching out to others.
And I believe it happens when we have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and think we are right and others are wrong.
And I believe that happens sometimes when we think the faith is about instant miracles… that it is about Jesus making everything all right and better.
But we as the church don’t offer cures. What we offer is path towards a cross, and suffering, and death. And we say that we will go together with Jesus to that death…
And only when we die is there resurrection.
Today the gospel lesson has these simple words from Jesus.
“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
We know that one of the ten commandments is “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.”
But I think we have twisted it a bit in church history, and we have a tendency to tell everyone that remembering the Sabbath is about going to church.
But if you remember the actual commandment, it is a day of rest when we do not work.
The principle is rest, not doing different work for Jesus that day.
It is a hard thing for us to remember. We are always thinking of the work that has to be done. Preparing sermons and the service. Doing the bulletin. Working at the food bank, choir practice, bible study, Board meetings, session meetings, committee meetings, fixing the church, painting the church, flower gardens and cutting grass and cleaning the snow in the winter.
Financial calculations, offerings and counting and accurate records and budgets. Salaries and Human resources. Volunteers and mission. Meals and potlucks.
Visiting the shut-ins. Calling each other. Tea and coffee after church. More Cleaning up.
Oh, the list goes on and on. And churches like to pride themselves on how much we do and how active we are in the community.
But maybe, just maybe we should put in out bulletins. Take time to rest. This church prides itself on sometimes doing nothing, but relaxing and resting and healing.
Jesus is very concerned with your physical, mental, emotional and social health, and sometimes it begins with that scripture about being still and just knowing God.
I sometimes wonder that if much of our ill health is trying to fit into society, rather than just sitting in the presence of God and understanding our own selves.
Instead of being somebody else, maybe all we have to do is be ourselves, and learn to know ourselves and love ourselves.
Because I think that we really know ourselves, look inside ourselves, and understand ourselves, we find God.
That God was there all along. That the divine was in us and a part of us all along.
The first part of healing is just taking the time to look after our own souls. The first part of healing is Sabbath time, time with yourself.
And so, I offer a simple suggestion. Take time with yourself. Know yourself. Love yourself. I think that if you do that it will help your relationship with God.
And taking time for yourself is very healing. Most of your pain from others goes away when you realize that God loves you, that you are special, that God likes you and that while there are always things that can change, that the real you inside doesn’t have to change much, You can be yourself with God.
And once you have taken that time of healing and rest we will get to another aspect of healing.
David that mighty king has just brought the Ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem. He literally danced so hard he danced right out of his clothes.
He had one of those spiritual mountaintop moments and in his ecstasy, he wants to build a big temple.
He even goes to the local prophet Nathan and proposes the big idea. Nathan thinks it is a pretty good idea too, but…. But… God doesn’t.
This isn’t God’s plan for David.
On one level maybe David just needs time to rest. He has been about solidifying the kingdom. It seems he has been at war and in conflict most of his life, from the time that he was a shepherd boy.
Maybe for his own healing and his own relationship with the Divine, David doesn’t need a mega-project.
But maybe there is deeper level at which David should not build a temple.
Maybe David does not understand what a temple is all about.
David has been a warrior king. David has despatched more than his fair share of the enemy of those who opposed the kingdom of Israel. So, for David the temple would be as much as shrine to his greatness and the greatness of Israel, as it would be a house of divine presence, where, as the prophets envisioned, all the peoples would come.
No. We who have read the bible know that the temple becomes a place of strict boundaries and barriers. A place that does as much, if not more, to keep people from God as a place for people to meet God.
Only the purest, the goodest, the cleanest, the most moral, the most powerful, get to go inside. Only the males, the Jews and the elite are let in.
Maybe David doesn’t have the vision to see the temple as Christ sees the temple. The real temple is all of us together loving one another and loving God.
David’s temple would be exclusive, privileged, self-centred and filled with those who are right.
Sounds a bit like the church to you.
The second healing that needs to happen is the healing that happens when governments, groups, temples, churches, religious groups and public institutions have made the boundaries and excluded and expelled and dominated and abused others.
As a soccer fan, I was appalled when England lost the Euro final and three black soccer players were not only blamed, but there was outright racism towards them. Not from one or two people but thousands of people on social media.
And of course, we cannot probably say enough about Canada’s history of residential schools.
For some years I used to tell myself that the Presbyterian residential schools were a cut above. They didn’t rape children or bury them in unmarked graves. I tried to make it more palatable, even though it was a cultural genocide.
For years I didn’t educate myself. I had no idea of the number of children who died, and some of the dreadful things that happened. I didn’t want to know. I wanted a quick fix. Hey we’ve apologized, let’s move on.
I didn’t want to walk with my brothers and sisters on their painful journey. I wanted it over. Their pain is so deep, so long, so difficult.
It is a horrible tendency of humans to victimize people and then see them as enemies as a way of justifying the horrors we laid upon them.
Another group we have marginalized in the church has been the LGBTQI community.
I am thanking God that the Presbyterian Church took a big step forward in inclusion at our last General Assembly, allowing LGBTQI people to be ministers and to get married.
But again, I don’t think it is enough to just say sorry, or to say, Well, we have changed our church laws. It is all fixed and over and healed.
I think we need a lot more healing. I think we need to walk with our brothers and sisters of different races. I think we need to walk with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. I think that we need to walk with our LGBTQI brothers and sisters.
I mean listen to their stories, share their pain, go where they are, and understand that they are teachers to us who have caused them pain.
Rachel Held Evans in her chapter on healing, talks about going to the Gay Christian Networks annual “Live it out” conference in Chicago. She went as a guest speaker but found that she had little to teach and much to learn.
So many of the young people there, and there were a lot of younger people, had negative experiences from their churches. So many had suffered, and sometime brutally.
They told stories of their churches trying to cast demons out of them, of being sent to counsellors who insisted they must have been molested, of being sent for treatment to change them back to heterosexual. And person after person told of being kicked out of their church or kicked out of their family.
One woman stood up and said that the first time she heard a homophobic word was at church.
Story after story of pain, but of finding Christ was with them.
At the end of the chapter Rachel writes that she thinks LGBTQI might have a special place in the church in the future including teaching Christians how to be Christians.
Christians who tell each other the truth.
Christians who confess our sins and embrace our enemies.
Christians who embrace our neighbours.
Christians who sit together in our pain, and in our healing and wait for resurrection.
Listen to some words that St. Paul wrote:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.
Maybe the first healing that has to happen is for us to sit in peace and quiet and understand how God loves us.
But the second healing that has to happen is for the dividing walls to be broken down.
That indeed is a task of the church.
Salvation means many things, but it is not just the dividing walls between us and God that have been overcome, but the dividing walls that separate humans from one another.
This is our healing mission.
In the words of Father Richard Rohr in his book The Divine Dance (176-78)
True seeing extends your sight even further: the people you want to hate, the people who carry out the worst atrocities, are not evil at their core — they’re simply tortured human beings. They still carry the divine image. Hitler and Stalin carried the divine image. Hussein and Bin Laden carried the divine image! I am not inclined to admit this, but it’s the only conclusion that full seeing leads me toward. The forbearance of God toward me allows me to see the divine dance in all other broken vessels.
If I’m honest, I have to acknowledge that seeing in this way robs me of a certain privilege I’ve allowed myself my whole life: I have always eaten generously from the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.” The categories are clear in my mind, which makes judging come naturally. Kindness and forbearance? Much less so.
As I’ve entered this dance more and more, God has taken away from me the power to choose who are the good folks and who are bad ones; I no longer have the freedom to choose who I show respect to, which races I feel more comfortable around, and what religions — or religious subgroups — I don’t like.
“Those secular liberals!”
“Those Republican [or Democrat] (or Conservative, or Liberal, or Green or NDP) idiots!”
But I’ve been dining my way through an alternative. Invited to a conscientious dietary shift, I eat instead from the Tree of Life, offered from the center of the archetypal Garden for all who enter the flow with bleeding and forbearing hearts. What a difference it makes: in this glorious, undifferentiated, freely-offered life, there is no longer a “they,” there.
It’s all “we.” Amen.