Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Sacrament of Healing

Outline of a sermon preached at a Celebration of Wholeness and Healing on Sunday, July 3, 20121, by Hawley Todd, TSSF.

My homily today will be about what we are doing in this service--this Celebration of Wholeness and Healing.

First, we are celebrating the graduation of eight wonderful people from EfM – Education for Ministry. (I’d rather it was called Formation for Life.) While we spend four years studying and worshipping together, EfM is first and foremost a formation process. It is a time when people set aside what others have told them to believe and to struggle with the tough questions of life. There are no fixed answers and each person is responsible for his or her own journey of faith.

Yet we here today are all in that same boat. These eight people have just been intentional about coming to terms with their beliefs and how those beliefs are becoming manifest in their lives.

In EfM we study many things.

The first year we study the Hebrew Bible. Notice I said Hebrew Bible and not the Old Testament! We study the Sacred Scripture of the religion to which Jesus belonged. And that religion was NOT Christianity. So we study it to learn what a good Hebrew might have understood it to say!

The second year we study the New Testament – the sacred scriptures of Christianity.

The third year we study the history of the Christian faith. All the fights and battles and politics about how we came to believe and do what we do. It is messy and continues to evolve! It changed and changes over time and location.

The last year we look at theology and how theologians of the past two centuries have tried to make sense of Christianity to the world around it.

Let’s just consider one of the many topics we have discussed in EFM.

What about sacraments?

Every Sunday, most Episcopal Churches come together to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion. Yet I am sure that at least a few of you remember when Morning Prayer was more typical in southern Ohio on a Sunday morning.

So what is a sacrament? Give me the definition ….

A sacrament is an “outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” (Page 857 Book of Common Prayer)

We all know "outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace."  How often do you think about the second half????? "Given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace." As a Sure and Certain Means by which we receive that Grace!

Please hear me that there is no uniformity in Christianity as to which “sure and certain means” are the “sacraments” or who is qualified to administer them. Denominations make those decisions.

Typically Baptism and Holy Communion are regarded as sacraments.

The Catechism in the back of the BCP is actually quite enlightening. It breaks the sacraments (baptism and Holy Eucharist) and the sacramental rites (confirmation, ordination, holy matrimony, reconciliation of a penitent, unction of the sick) into outward and inward aspects.

While the outward forms differ and the purpose for each sacrament differs, there appears to be one common element in all of them. They are the sure and certain means by which God grants us Grace and we come into God’s presence.

Page 861 of the Catechism asks “is God limited to these rites?”

And then answers “God does not limit himself to these rites; they are patterns of countless ways by which God uses material things to reach out to us.”

So why does Grace Church have a Celebration of Wholeness and Healing on a Sunday morning? Why aren’t we worshipping the way most of you are used to doing and have the sacrament of Holy Communion?

On one level, it is pragmatic. The hierarchy of the Episcopal Church restricts the Eucharist to priests and Bishops. Similarly, it restricts confirmation to Bishops.

Not all denominations do it that way. If we were in a Disciples of Christ Church, any of us could consecrate the bread and wine. Yet I would need to be ordained to stand up here and preach.

However since I am not ordained and I am playing by the rules of the Episcopal Church, I will not ask the Holy Spirit to come and consecrate the elements.

Yet the Episcopal Church does allow in its rubrics (the rules) for lay people to do other sacramental actions.

We can have a healing service. Healing is the process by which we become the people God created us to be. We are restored in God’s image-- male and female. We are brought back to harmony and balance in body, mind, emotions, spirit, and in relationships.

Actually all sacraments are in some sense the same.

In all sacraments, we come into God’s presence. We invite God to come into us. We seek God’s grace to transform us to become who we were created to be. We use some external mechanism to receive the Holy Spirit/Jesus. We are renewed in God’s Love. We are restored in God’s image.

So when we have the laying on of hands today, come in simple faith. Come in that same expectancy that I hope you have each week as you receive the Body and Blood of Jesus when you go to a Eucharist. Come expecting to receive Jesus deep into your heart and soul.

Rather than a priest saying the Epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit) over the bread and wine, today, we will be saying our own “epiclesis” over each and every one of you who comes forward. We will ask that God fills you with his presence and blesses you in whatever ways you most need God’s presence. That today and for the remainder of your life, you may become the REAL Presence of Christ to the world.

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