One of the core messages of the gospel is healing: God’s law to love him fully and to love our neighbours as ourselves is itself a plan to heal our relationships, to heal the wounds of sin that separate us from God. The Prophets speak of the Kingdom of God as a place of healing, with nations streaming in to see the glory of God, finding healing for what ails them. Throughout the Gospels, our Lord displays the mighty power of God and teaches us to understand God’s will through dozens of healing miracles, and those examples of healing continue through the apostles and through the Church, even to our own day, as God continues to heal, as he continues to make a way where there seems to be no way; doing what we thought was impossible; reminding us that, just when we think we have it all figured out, we couldn’t be further from the truth.
Healing of the whole human person – body and spirit together – is central to our faith. Indeed, our faith in the resurrection – our hope of eternal life – is not that we would be freed from our creaky, cranky old bodies, but that they would be made new, and be able to reflect the Image of God, no longer subject to pain or hunger or exhaustion, but being perfectly satisfied by union with the source of life itself.
And, though we’re not great at expressing it, faith in the healing power of God is – and must be – one of the marks or signs of the Church. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, wherever two or three are truly gathered in the Name of the Lord, we should expect to find healing: if we’re the Church, if we’re the Body of Christ, if Christ is here as we know he is, then part of the evidence of that are lives that experience freedom from the despair of pain and suffering, bodies and souls that reflect the glory of God here and now.
…but, then again, in a time when it seems the only ones talking about healing by faith are the multi-millionaire preachers asking for money on TV, and at a time when – by God’s grace – we’re able to understand and treat physical and mental illness better than ever before, what is the place of healing in the Church?
Why do we pray?
About 5 years ago, I was leading a discussion on this very topic with a group of students who were preparing for ordained ministry; we were discussing how each discovery of science and medicine further reinforces just how awesome and powerful God is, if only we can stop trying to make God in our own image and accept Him as He’s revealed Himself in the scriptures through the Church as wiser and more gracious than we could ever imagine.
And then, one of the students, who had become really quiet and looked pretty distraught, finally piped up. “Fr. Alex”, he said. “I believe it, I really do. But there’s one part that I just don’t get, and I’ve never told anybody, because if the bishop found out, I guess I’d never be ordained”.
…uh-oh, I thought, what are we in for now?
“If God is merciful and good, if God really wants to work all things together for good for those who love him, if Jesus wants to draw the world to himself to share in his risen life, then why do we need to pray? If God’s so good, why do I need to convince him to do something?”
(That, my friends, is why clergy need to go to seminary, to ask those deep questions before they find themselves in a pulpit, or worse, at your bedside!)
But it’s a fair question, perhaps one that you’ve asked yourself one way or another.
If God is so good, why do I have to convince him to help me?
Right off the bat, though, I’d suggest that question shows that we haven’t appreciated just how great God’s love for us really is.
If we’ve made God in our own image, if we follow our society’s vague idea of an old king set apart on a distant throne, we end up with an image of prayer in which we are the poor peasants who must cry out and beg for the king’s mercy. But, read your Bible cover to cover; not once will you see God described that way. That’s simply not what we believe.
No, in the one prayer that Jesus Himself taught us, how do we, poor, struggling, often-disobedient mortals address the almighty Creator of heaven and earth? How do we?
Our Father. But, even that translation has become too formal over the years. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus and St. Paul refer to the Father as abba – “dad”.
It’s a purely human invention to imagine prayer as begging a distant King to hear the cries of a poor peasant – and no wonder prayer becomes such an unpleasant experience if it’s approached that way.
No, Jesus teaches us not to plead with a distant king, but to speak, to share with his dad, who has adopted us as his own. Prayer isn’t a dry, lofty ritual; the God who makes himself present in bread and wine invites us to pull up a chair at the great thanksgiving feast and commune – meaning to “talk over” or “discuss” – with him.
Prayer is the furthest thing from convincing God, as if we had any power or ability to plead our cause before the Almighty. No, it’s so much more – prayer is our opportunity to pull up a chair at the kitchen table, where a loving dad offers you your lunch – your food for the journey – and asks you, patiently, ‘my son, my daughter, how is your day?’
Tell me what’s on your mind. Get it off your chest.
And as we name our concerns, as we cast off our burdens, as we thank our loving dad for being there having the food ready, even when we were late, or wandered off and didn’t come home at all, do you know what happens? We commune – that talking things over – goes both ways.
If we’re waiting for a grand messenger from a lofty palace to come with the king’s message, we’ll miss it – because, when we pray to our dad who has adopted us as brothers and sisters in Christ, he speaks directly to us, in that still small voice.
And, just as prayer isn’t us attempting to convince Him, God’s response to us isn’t just a set of “approved” or “denied” stamps. No, the amazing part of prayer – throughout scripture – is that, as we pray, as we simply speak to God, He reveals his will.
As we simply name our concerns to our loving father, his quiet response allows us to see things as he does; problems are put into perspective; the frustrating failings of another person become our own opportunities for mercy; the life-shattering news that shatters every plan we had for our lives, the hopes and dreams that fall apart, become opportunities to learn to trust; and, as we learn to trust, as we learn to live one day at a time, as we learn to recognize every breath in this weary world as a blessed gift, as we learn to live for his glory as faithful, loving children, not begging, not wishing for things to go back to how they were, not clinging to yesterday, not trying to earn a favour, but simply trusting in the goodness of God, we find that our prayers are answered in the way that are best for us, as through that conversation, through that communing – that chatting, that talking over, that communion – with God, we learn to understand his will.
What about Healing?
If prayer isn’t about convincing God of anything, then why should we consider taking the church up on it’s offer of healing prayer?
In short, whenever any of us brothers and sisters in Christ are sick, we should request the healing prayer of the church simply because our father tells us that we should, in his word.
In the Epistle of James, we’re told, straight-out:
Be patient, then, brothers, and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. … Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the presbyters of the church [that is, priests and elders] to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person whole; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.James 5:8; 14-16
We don’t anoint with oil or ask for healing prayer as a last resort; we don’t do it as an extra boost of spiritual power; we certainly don’t do it as an alternative to medical treatment, since all healing and knowledge and science are gifts from God for our benefit.
No, we simply do this because God says we should; and obeying his word is one of the ways we demonstrate, and live into, our trust in Him.
Think about it – how often do we pray about, chat with our loving dad about our health, our physical and mental and deep spiritual concerns, perhaps hoping for a miracle or some grand display of power. Yet, he has already said, right there, in black and white, for us all to read, when Christians are sick – yeah you take your medicine, yes we remain patient, yes the Body of Christ, the Church comes around the sick person and helps you do the things that you’re not well enough to do yourself, but what does God say we are to do? Call the priest and ask for prayer and anointing with oil in the name of the Lord. As far as interpreting the will of God goes, it literally couldn’t be more straight forward, spelled out in three simple steps: call the priest, ask for prayer, and anointing in the name of the Lord.
We must be careful, as we pray for healing, not to reject God’s plan because it seems too easy or too simplistic. Remember Naaman, the great general who sought healing from God, and was told to bathe in the Jordan 7 times, but wasn’t going to go because it was too easy; he’d rather have a prophet come and say some words or wave his hands. Remember those whom Jesus healed, for whom the healing came in a simple: ‘get up’ or ‘go show yourselves to the priests’, and the healing came as they obeyed.
If we’re going to pray for our own healing, we must also be ready to obey the simple response that God has given: ok, now call the priest, ask for prayer, and be anointed.
What happens when we’re anointed?
Once we’ve been anointed, what happens? Does that then convince God to heal us?
No, and if we think that, we’ve missed the point about what it means to have a loving dad who wants to discuss, chat, commune with us about our journey.
Rather, anointing is the outward and visible, physical sign of our willingness to obey.
Like baptism and repentance, we can say we’re following Jesus, but the first thing he tells us to do is to be baptized and repent of our sins – so if you haven’t done those things, you can say you’re following Jesus, but your actions don’t match up with your words.
It’s the same thing with healing. If we say we’re trusting God for healing, then our actions have to show that. If we’re praying for healing of body or soul, we must also do as God directs.
So this morning, we’ll have that opportunity to simply do what God says. After the Prayers, as Isabel leads us in song, any who are praying for their own healing – it could be physical, it could be spiritual, it could be the healing of an anxious or burdened mind – come to the end of your pew, and I will come around and do as our Lord directs.
We do so not to earn any favour with God, but simply to be obedient, to put our faith into action, to show God – but also to show ourselves – that we are ready and willing to listen.
Are any of you sick?
Call the priests and elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. The Lord will raise them up. To God be the Glory.
 Isaiah 58:8, Ezekiel 47:12
 An application of 2 Corinthians 3:15-4:1
 James 5: 8; 14-16