“Healing Prayer”

pdficon_small Download a PDF of this sermon here.


Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

October 12, 2014 – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture:  Acts 5:12-21a


If you open your Bible to a random page, there’s no telling what you might find—poetry or prophecy, laws or letters, stories or songs. Our scriptures contain such a wide variety of literature that you might find just about anything. But when you open your Bible and begin to read, it is pretty likely that before too long, you will encounter a story of healing.

There are dozens of these stories. Healings of physical afflictions—leprosy, blindness, deafness, paralysis, seizures. Healings of mental and emotional afflictions—sorrow, grief, anger, psychosis, depression. Healings of relational afflictions—broken friendships, broken families, broken promises, broken hearts.

People from all walks of life are featured in these stories, from beggars to kings and everyone in between. In ancient times, just as today, one’s wealth or race or education or status provides no guarantee against human frailty and need. And so we have stories of people in a wide variety of circumstances who go in search of healing and find it at the hands of a prophet, or an apostle, or the Spirit of God, or Jesus himself.

When we read these ancient stories with our modern eyes, when we hear them with our modern ears, some of us will hesitate. After all, we know about viruses and bacteria, about genetic mutations and environmental factors. We have a different understanding of illness than our ancestors did, and we have a different understanding of healing, too. We are reasonable, rational people, and so we do not necessarily expect that our prayers will generate the kinds of miracles described in many of the Biblical stories of healing—where blind eyes are made to see, and silent mouths are made to speak, and paralyzed legs are made to skip and leap and run.

If you’re like me, you have prayed on behalf of afflicted people whose illness has not abated. You have prayed for remission, and cancer has returned. You have prayed for recovery, and organs have continued to fail. You have prayed for hope, and depression has tightened its icy grip. If you’re like me, you might have sometimes wondered whether prayer makes any difference at all.

Here’s the thing about prayer: it may not cure our afflictions, but that does not mean that it cannot heal us. Prayer does not replace chemotherapy, or transplant surgery, or antidepressant medication. Prayer does something different. Prayer attends to the underlying wholeness that exists, even in the midst of illness. Prayer attends to the underlying love that exists, even in midst of suffering. When we pray for healing, we build up that deep and powerful wholeness. We lift up body, mind, and spirit. We connect to the Source of all our being. When we pray for healing, we open ourselves to the peace that passes all understanding, the peace of God that makes hope out of despair, joy out of grief, life out of death, a way out of no way.


In our scripture reading for this morning, we see that the early Christian community was a community of healing. People came from far away, some under their own steam and others carried by friends or loved ones. When they shared their hurts and needs with the community, they found healing. They tapped into the healing power of God’s love—a power that cannot be stopped by illness, or suffering, or condemnation, or imprisonment, or any earthly power. When they came out into the open, when they shared their needs with one another and with the followers of Jesus, the people found healing, and wholeness, and peace.

And so, this morning, we are going to give it a try, too. In a few moments, we will enter together into a time of healing prayer. We will sing gentle hymns and invite God’s Spirit to enter in through their melodies and words. For some of you, that will be enough; you might choose to stay in your pew and sing, or hum, or pray quietly. For others of you, if you feel led to do so, I invite you to come forward to pray with myself and the deacons. You might come silently, trusting that God already knows your deepest need. Or you might come and share a few words about a place in your life where you need healing—a broken relationship, a mistake for which you can’t forgive yourself, a loved one for whom you worry, a fear that holds you in its grasp, an anger you can’t let go of, an illness with which you struggle, a grief that weighs you down. Know that what you share will be held in confidence. The deacons and I will respond with the gentle touch of a hand on your shoulder and with some simple words of blessing.

There are also candles available here on the tables. If you feel so moved, you might come forward to light one as you lift up a prayer. In so doing, we will invite God’s light to shine into the dark corners of our hearts, our lives, our world.

I realize that this way of praying might feel a little uncomfortable for some of you; it might feel different from what you’re accustomed to; it might feel a little more vulnerable than you usually feel in church. But if you open yourself up and give it a try, you just might find that in the midst of that discomfort and vulnerability, there is wholeness, and restoration, and peace, and healing. You just might find yourself very close indeed to God—buoyed up by God’s love and filled with the peace that passes all understanding.

May it be so.