“Healing”

Download a PDF of this sermon here.

 

Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

October 13, 2013 A Service of Healing Prayer

Scripture:  2 Kings 5:1-14

 

We all need it at some point.  It is a universal part of the human experience, something we all come up against from time to time.

It might be something minor, like a skinned knee; it might be something serious, like cancer.

It might be something minor, like a bruised ego; it might be something serious, like depression.

It might be something minor, like a petty quarrel; it might be something serious, like a rift that opens up between family members and will not close.

Minor or serious, physical or emotional or relational—every single one of us will, from time to time, find ourselves in need of healing.

You’ll find, if you haven’t already, that I don’t make a lot of universal statements.  I know better than to assume that we all have the exact same experiences in life.  But of this claim, I feel very confident:  every single one of us will, from time to time, find ourselves in need of healing.

After all, this human life is a vulnerable, precarious thing.  Our bodies and our hearts are soft and fleshy and tender, and we travel through a world that is often hard and sharp and fast-moving.  Wounds and hurts, losses and illnesses are inevitable.  Every single one of us has them, and every one who has come before has had them, too.

 

The pages of our scriptures are filled with people in need of healing.  Today’s story of Naaman and his struggle with leprosy is but one of many, many such stories.  There are stories of broken relationships and broken trust… physical wounds and mental illnesses… individual afflictions and entire communities that suffer.

And the stories—or most of them, at least—don’t end with the suffering, but tell of healings, too.  They describe leprous skin restored to health, blind eyes made to see, paralyzed legs made to walk.  They describe tormented minds calmed to stillness and dead people brought back to life.

These stories sound miraculous and perhaps improbable to our modern ears and scientific minds.  After all, we know how medicine works.  When we need healing, we turn to doctors and nurses, psychiatrists and therapists, acupuncturists and chiropractors, surgeons and pharmacists.  We know about antibiotics, and blood thinners, and laser surgery, and antidepressants, and chemotherapy.

And so, perhaps, we wonder—what do these Biblical tales of healing have to do with us?  What do these ancient stories of healing have to do with our modern lives?  What does our faith have to say about healing in a world where we look to physicians, not prophets, when we fall ill?

If today’s scripture is any indication, then these ancient stories may be more relevant than we think.  Although the way we understand illness and cure is different now, informed by centuries of study in science and medicine and technology, these scriptural stories of healing have a thing or two to teach us yet.

In today’s story, the Hebrew word translated as “cure,” as in, “He would cure him of his leprosy,” is more literally translated as “receive” or “gather in.”  The King James Version reads, “He would recover him of his leprosy.”  This word connotes not a strictly physical cure, but a restoration of wholeness in the sense of the Hebrew shalom, which means a holistic well-being, a peace and wholeness that incorporates body, mind, and spirit.

In the minds of the Biblical writers, illness had a physiological dimension, to be sure, but it also had social and spiritual dimensions.  They understood that when a person is ill, she may lose her connections with family and friends, her ability to participate in the life of her community.  They knew that when a person is ill, he may lose his sense of meaning and purpose, his sense of identity, his sense of connection with God.

Understanding illness in this way, healing also has these multiple dimensions.  In today’s story, Naaman was cured of his leprosy, but perhaps more importantly, he was restored to his community, restored to his body, restored to himself.  He was returned to wholeness; he was made well.

 

It is this sense of healing that we will engage in today—a spiritual healing that is distinct from a medical cure.  Here in the church, we may not be able to cure cancer or bring loved ones who have died back to life.  When we pray for healing here, we don’t expect people who came in hobbling to leave your crutches or canes at the altar and go leaping back down the aisle.  We don’t expect people who came in grieving to find your sorrow entirely converted into joy.  We don’t expect people who came in tangled up in the net of addiction to find yourselves suddenly and magically free.

But that is not to say that we don’t expect miracles to happen here.  That is not to say that we don’t expect lives to be transformed.  For when we open up our most vulnerable places to the healing power of God’s Spirit, and when we allow a sister or brother in faith to share our burden, there is truly no telling what might happen.

 

And so, today, we will give it a try.  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 forward silently, trusting that God already knows your deepest need.  Or you might come forward 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.

This 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 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.  And by God’s grace, we just might find that we are, all of us, both healer and healed, gathered in by the Spirit and received into the mercy and forgiveness and blessing of God’s love.

May it be so.