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2019.02.24:The Gentle Healer

Preached at First Presbyterian Church, East Aurora, NY, February 24, 2019, by Langdon “Buddy” Hubbard

The Gentle Healer

James 5:13-16; Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40

Luke 4:31-44  


            After Jesus preached his first sermon about how God had called him to bring good news to the poor, open blinded eyes, bind up the brokenhearted, set the captives free, and inaugurate the Year of Jubilee, when God would restore all things, and then summarily got kicked out of town for being so audacious, challenging his hometown racism, he headed down the path through the Valley of the Doves, 19 miles to Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee.  It was here his ministry would begin.  And it began with a bang.


            It all began on a Sabbath day in the synagogue, when a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon cried out in a loud voice at Jesus:  “Let us alone!  What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”    Jesus told the demon to be quiet, and then he cast it out, leaving the man unharmed and set free from his bondage.


            The people were amazed wondering who this was who had so much power and authority that he can just say the word and it’s done.  People started talking about him and the word spread throughout the whole region.


            After worship, Jesus was invited to Simon Peter’s house for lunch.  Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever.  Again, no problem.  Jesus just stood over her, rebuked the fever, and it left her well and whole.  She got up and cooked them all a nice breakfast.


            By sundown everyone who had friends and family who were sick, brought them to Jesus, and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them.  He also sent the demons away, who knew exactly who this person of power and authority was, naming him:  “You are the Son of God!” He told them to be quiet, because they knew he was the Messiah, and it wasn’t time for everyone to know that yet.  He was just getting started.


            Early the next morning, Jesus got away by himself, as was his habit, usually to pray.  And even then the crowds were looking for him.  But it was time to move on, because God wanted him to take his message of the kingdom of God all the other cities too.  And so he left, preaching his message and doing the healing and liberating works of the kingdom of God in all the synagogues.        

            And so Jesus’ ministry has begun and it’s everything he said it would be, healing, liberating, joyful, and hopeful, inaugurating the Year of Jubilee, that is, the kingdom of God.


            Reading these stories is exciting, as we see the power of God manifested in this man Jesus, who is human, but also divine, as even the demons even recognized, he was and is the Son of God.  And so we worship him, and like the crowds we too bring to him the brokenness of our lives, our diseases, our evil, our addictions, our brokenness, even our broken relationships, and we too hope and pray for a miracle.  And then we discover a terrible reality:  sometimes healing comes and sometimes it doesn’t.  What do we do with these stories then?  Are they full of false hope and empty promises?  If Jesus healed them, why not me?


            I once knew a young woman whose father had cancer and was not doing well.  She prayed every day for his healing but he never seemed to get any better.  She finally sought out her church for help and a group of fellow members came to lay hands on her father and pray.  They summoned all the faith they could muster, and they believed that if they only had enough faith, he would be healed.  He died.  And with him went my friend’s faith.  She wasn’t sure who had failed, but obviously someone had.  It was either because she didn’t have enough faith, or because God simply can’t be counted on.  She was convinced she couldn’t have had any more faith, so it must be that God failed.  Who could believe in such an impotent or uncaring God?  My friend was not alone in her struggle to believe in God’s healing power only to be disappointed in the end.


            I’ve often thought about the fact that there is one prayer that will not be answered in the way we would like: that we or our loved one will not die.  At some point we have to let go of unrealistic expectations about healing prayer.  Not everyone will be healed; people always die in the end.  It’s a humble reminder that may have helped my friend through her dark night of the soul.  In the end healing does not depend on us and our faith but on God and God’s purposes and intentions, which we do not always understand, and certainly do not always appreciate.  Does God heal people?  I believe God does, sometimes.  But we don’t have any way of predicting when, nor of forcing outcomes by the amount of faith we may bring to bear.  In the end, when it comes to healing prayer, we are left with a mystery.


            But that does not mean there is nothing we can do.  We still can pray and we should pray.  But the way we pray when it comes to healing may mean the difference between a faith that is crushed and a faith that grows deeper. 


            Praying for healing calls forth a bold humility (or humble boldness depending on your perspective).  On the one hand we pray boldly, believing that God can answer our prayers for healing.  Jesus showed such boldness when he told his followers to “ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7,11) So we should ask God for healing...boldly.


            But then we find Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, showing us the other side of prayer, the humility.  Knowing what he was about to face his own death, Jesus prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) Here Jesus prays boldly (“Father, take it away”) but humbly (“yet not my will, but yours be done”).  Jesus shows us how to pray for healing, and for that matter, for all things, with bold humility.


            I witnessed such prayer in action at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Guidance, when Tilden Edwards (then Director), led a group of us in laying hands on one another as we prayed for God’s healing in each of our lives.  He instructed us to pray, “God, bring about your healing as you see fit.”  There it is: bold humility.  We believe God can heal and wants to heal.  We simply don’t know when or how God will do it.  But that God will heal in God’s own way and time we have no doubt.  And so we pray, and believe, and let go, and let God’s will be done.


            Do I believe God can heal?  Yes, I do.  I believed my mother’s stories of how she was dying of myasthenia gravis, a disease of the nervous system which prevented her from having any more children, and she prayed, “Lord, either take me or heal me, but don’t let me be a burden on my family.” Later on one of her doctor’s visits, he said, “I don’t know how to explain this, but I don’t see any evidence that you have this disease any more.  What else can I say, but “You’ve been healed.”  I was born after that.  


            I have prayed for healing from a headache, praying for the blood vessels to open up and let the blood flow, and felt the easing of pain.


            I have watched as a father who normally didn’t pray, prayed for his daughter, and the excruciating pain she was experiencing left her.


            I have been amazed to have been at the bedside of a man dying of AIDS, with a group of us praying for him, only to see him the next day, fully recovered, and he’s still alive over 20 years later.


            I have even witnessed someone who seemed to be possessed by some demonic power, set free through prayer.


            Yes, I believe in healing prayer, and in prayer that sets people free from the power of evil in all of its manifestations, including addictions.  I know God has that kind of power.


            And yet at the same time I have to say it is all a mystery to me, because I can tell you far more stories where I and others prayed and it seemed no answers came.  But I have come to believe that there is something more than simple healing, and that it wholeness.  And that almost always seems to be the result of prayer, when people become whole physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.  They may not have received physical healing, but they have received the gift of wholeness and peace.  And that ultimately is our prayer, that our lives be made whole and good again, even in spite of our illnesses and brokenness.  We are not just physical creatures, we are whole people, of body, mind, and spirit, and what affects one aspect of our lives affects the whole.


            And so let us pray for healing and liberation from evil, with a bold humility, believing it can happen, even as we leave our lives in God’s hands in faith and hope.  But let us even more pray for wholeness, that no matter what happens in life, healing or not, we will be at peace, and full of hope and joy, because we are surrounded by God’s and our family and friends’ loving embrace.  “God, bring about your healing as you see fit.”  That is our prayer.  And so we rest in God’s loving arms, and trust that our wholeness, if not our healing, will come in God’s good time.  And with the people of Jesus’ time, we too worship and praise God, because God is there with us and for us in all of life.  Thanks be to God!