Sunday, July 01, 2018

The Ultimate Healing

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, earlier today.]

Mark 5:21-44
Today’s message is a re-run, slightly modified. It addresses an important topic and got many comments when I shared it three years ago. A friend of mine once said, “If the Holy Spirit inspired you to preach something, there’s a good chance that it’s still worth preaching.” That seems especially true of this message.

Some people read or hear passages like our gospel lesson for today and ask why the God we know in Jesus doesn't heal people today? One guy asked me, “When did God stop performing miracles?” The answer, of course, is that He’s never stopped. God still does miracles. The God we know in Jesus Christ still heals.

And the empirical evidence for that seems to increase all the time. 

In an October 25, 1999 article of The Archives of Internal Medicine, seven physicians, a hospital chaplain, a social worker, and a scholar associated with leading hospitals from around the country, presented the findings of their research on the connection between intercessory prayer—prayer offered on behalf of others--and the recovery of coronary patients. (I have a particular interest in this, as you can imagine.) 

The researchers set up what’s known as a “double blind” experiment on those recovering from heart problems. There were 990 patients in the study. Prayers were said for some of them. Prayers were not offered for the others. The doctors treating the patients didn’t know who was chosen to be prayed for and the subjects of the prayers didn’t know either. 

But a list of first names was given to people in local churches who prayed for those on the list each day. Neither the people doing the praying, nor the people being prayed for, nor the researchers knew who had been chosen to be the target of prayer. 

And what happened? Those for whom prayers were offered recovered more quickly. As the researchers put it in the conclusion of their abstract, “This result suggests that prayer may be an effective adjunct to standard medical care.”

Now, if this were an isolated study, it wouldn’t mean much. But in recent decades, literally hundreds of objective scientific studies, conducted at major hospitals and universities, have been done looking into the connection between things like faith, prayer, and worship attendance on the one hand and healing and health on the other. The results are stunning.

A few examples: 

A 1972 study of 91,909 people in Washington County, Maryland “found that those who attended church once or more a week had significantly lower death rates from…coronary-artery disease (50 percent reduction), emphysema (56 percent reduction), cirrhosis of the liver (74 percent reduction), suicide (53 percent reduction).”

“A 1978 study of 355 men in Evans County, Georgia showed that those who attended church one or more times per week had significantly lower blood-pressure readings than individuals who attended church less often. The positive link between church attendance and lower blood pressure held up even if the church attenders were smokers!”

Many of you in this sanctuary this morning would affirm that the God we know in Jesus Christ is still in the healing business. I can’t possibly count how many times I’ve had people tell me, “I can feel the prayers people are offering for me.” 

Certainly, God uses doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to bring His healing. And I thank God for them. But, as study after study has confirmed, their efforts are enhanced by prayer.

Many health care professionals know this. One surgeon I met years ago made a point of asking when I would be joining the patient he was operating on for prayer before surgery. “I want to be there when you pray,” he told me. “And would you please pray for me, too?” I was happy to do that.
It’s not uncommon for medical personnel to ask if they can join me when I pray with church members before their surgeries. One morning, as I visited for prayer with a Living Water member, the family and I were asked by both the surgeon and the anesthetist if we would pray with them. So, we had two prayers before the procedure!

After I'd had a heart attack eight years ago, it was determined that I had a 100% blockage in the left anterior descending artery. (Cardiologists have a nickname for that blockage. They call it "the widowmaker.") Two weeks after the attack, I was in the Cath Lab at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus. I was awake during the procedure, of course. As it unfolded, my cardiologist told me, "I found," referring to the blockage, "but I don't know if I can get through it." "Oh," I told him and those assisting him, "I pray you can." I had visions of otherwise having to undergo open heart surgery, which some of you have had. A few moments later, the doctor told me, "I got it, buddy." "Thank God!" I said, and addressing everyone in the room, "And thank all of you." "No," my doctor told me. "Just thank God."

The God we know in Jesus Christ would still be God, still loving, still powerful, even if "the widowmaker" had killed me eight years ago. But I'm convinced that he spared me death then so that I could be here this morning and to do whatever else He has in mind for me to do to spread the Gospel and give Him glory.

God is still in the healing business. In his book, The Faith Factor, Dr. Dale A. Matthews tells the true story of Barbara, who suffered from cancer. Barbara was in worship one Sunday at the Anglican church she attended when the priest read our gospel lesson for this morning, including the account of the woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. Barbara considered how the woman had so much faith in Jesus that she thought to herself, “If only I touch the hem of His garment, I will be healed.” And her faith in Jesus was rewarded; she was healed. 

As Barbara prepared to go to the altar to receive Holy Communion, a thought crossed her mind: “I could be like her.” She looked at her priest who was, she thought, “standing in” for Jesus as He presided over the Eucharist. “She decided that she would touch the priest’s robe when he gave her the communion wafer.” 

As Barbara tells it: “I touched his robe, and [unlike Jesus] he couldn’t have known that I did, though he did know about my cancer. He did something in that moment that I had never seen him do before: he put down the paten with the communion wafers and came over to me; laying both hands on my head, he prayed for my healing.”

Barbara wasn’t healed instantly. But she knew that God was healing her. As she explains it, though at that point her healing wasn’t physical, her heart was healed. “I had complete trust in God and his love, something [God] knew I needed far more than any other kind of healing at the moment.”

Of course, you and I know that not everyone for whom we pray is healed. Other than Jesus, Who rose from the dead, the ratio of births to deaths in this world remains 1:1. 

Even more than that, Pastor Mark Dahle, a Lutheran pastor who has written and spoken about his California congregation’s healing ministry, reminds us, everybody for whom we pray will eventually die. We live in a fallen and imperfect world. Death comes, as does suffering of all kinds. Faith in Jesus is no insurance policy against the reality of living in a dying world.

So, why did Jesus raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead and the woman with the long-standing hemorrhaging in today’s Gospel lesson? Why does Jesus heal today?

We get at least one answer to that question from an interchange that happens between Simon Peter and Jesus before dawn, the day after Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law. The disciples had been frantic to find Jesus, Who had gone off for some quiet time with God the Father, so that He could go back into the town He’d preached, taught, and healed in the day before. But Jesus tells them, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38) [Emphasis mine]

For Jesus, healing was never an end. It was only a means

John’s Gospel constantly refers to Jesus’ healings and other miracles as signs. Signs point to something more significant, more meaningful than themselves

The miracles of Jesus point us to the simple, powerful fact that Jesus has power over life, death, suffering, disease, sin, the devil, our sinful selves, and every other one of our enemies.

What Jesus came to do during His time on earth was, through His words, life, death, and resurrection, share a plain message, one that will change our lives forever if we let it. Jesus puts it this way in Mark 1:15: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” 

Jesus says, in effect, “Turn from sin—repent—and trust in Me to give you life forever—fuller life today and totally new, restored life in eternity with God.”

Jesus’ miracles assure us that it’s safe to do that, to turn from our favorite sins, our abiding fears, our need for control, and to simply, completely trust in Him. 

If Jesus has control over life and death, do you really think that He’s going to lose you? 

Or lose His Church? 

Or lose the eternity He won on the cross for you and guaranteed by His resurrection from the dead? 

Repent. Trust. That’s Jesus’ message in a nutshell. 

Its validity and power to change a life for eternity are underscored by HIs miracles, by His suffering death on our behalf, and by His resurrection.

Jesus once asked an important question. “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” [Matthew 16:26] Today’s lesson, I think, asks a similar question: “What good is it to have perfect health, but not have life with God?” "What good is it to have everything you want in this world, but not have life with God?"

Jesus Christ heals. And, by the power of His death and resurrection, the ultimate healing, the one that matters for all eternity, is the healing of our broken relationships with God, with others, and with ourselves. The healing that Christ brings to those who repent and believe in Him will be our joy for all eternity. 

The daily lifestyle of "repent and trust," what Luther called "daily repentance and renewal," can also, even now, be our comfort, our strength, our hope, our power, our reason for waking up in the morning with faith and peace instead of fear and apprehension. I hope that sounds as good to you as it does to me. Amen

No comments: