Friday, May 04, 2012

Why Hold a Healing Service?

Preached 4/29/12 at Grace Church by Hawley Todd, TSSF.

Scripture readings for the day

Acts 4:5-12
The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, wth Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, "By what power or by what name did you do this?" Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is 'the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.' There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved."

Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

1 John 3:16-24
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us--and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

John 10:11-18
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away--and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. Th hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."

The Sermon

If you are new to Grace church, you may wonder why we have a Celebration of Wholeness and Healing as our primary service on a Sunday Morning. After all, most liturgical churches have Holy Eucharist/Communion as the principle worship service on Sundays. And we are in keeping with that tradition most Sundays of the month. And many Protestant Churches have services where the preaching of the Word of God is the central focus. Yet once a month, we have this service.

So why does Grace have a healing service on Sunday mornings? I will give you two answers to that question but first let me put it into context. I am the Executive Director for Episcopal Healing Ministries and as part of my job, I help priests and parishes establish healing ministries. Priests and folks interested in healing seek my advice and counsel because they want to put Jesus’ teachings into action.

My first task is to listen and get to know the parish. What are its values? How do people relate to God? What are the preferred modes of worship?

And then I work with a parish to develop healing ministries and services that are authentic to the life of the parish.

For instance, at Grace we have two different healing services.

The one this morning is taken from the Irish Book of Common Prayer and is a traditional Anglican service. It follows a clearly delineated litany & structure and is done in a reverent & dignified manner. It is geared to the norms and sensibilities of traditional Episcopalians.

Our Wednesday evening Celebration of Wholeness and Healing is quite different. It is geared to seekers and individuals who are wary of organized religion. While reverence and worship of God are still paramount, I work to create an atmosphere that welcomes and honors individuals from many spiritual traditions.

Our number one core value at Grace Church is to welcome everyone and treat each person as a child of God. Look at the front of the bulletin for our values! We welcome everyone and honor their unique expressions of who they are. Moreover, value #5 says: “Honor everyone’s age, race, economic situation, sexual orientation, family configuration and religious approach.

So having two different kinds of healing service makes perfect sense at Grace. Grace is an inclusive parish and our services reflect who we are and what we value!

I counsel each parish to pay attention to how God is being worshipped and made manifest in its midst.

For instance, St Tim’s in Anderson wanted me to recreate our Wednesday night service there. I said: “no, we need to find a form that is authentic to St Tim’s.” And they did just that and have a wonderful contemplative healing service.

None of this though answers the question of “why have a healing service on Sunday morning?”

One can begin to answer the question by studying the Gospels and seeing what Jesus did. How did he spend his time? Read any Gospel and you will be struck by the fact that Jesus spent his time healing and teaching. That is what he did.

There are 72 accounts of healing in the 4 Gospels. Depending on how you understand healing, between 1/5 to 1/3 of the Gospels are specifically concerned with Jesus healing. And it wasn’t just Jesus who spent his time and effort healing. What did he instruct his disciples to do? Luke 9:2 is specific – Jesus tells the 12 to preach the kingdom of God and heal the sick. In the 10th chapter of Luke, Jesus expands the commission to the 70. In Mark 16, he expands the commission to any believer.

Look at our readings for today. John tells us to love in truth and action. He tells us that if we love God, we will work to meet the needs of others. There are many ways to meet the needs of others. Healing applies to whatever is amiss in our physical, emotional, mental and/or spiritual lives. And the hallmark of it all is love.

We believe in the name of Jesus. We know the reality of the risen Christ – the Jesus who is here with us today – the Jesus who abides in us. And we ask and pray in the power of the Holy Spirit for one another to move more fully and deeply into relationship with God.

Look at the 4th chapter of Acts. What had Peter and John done to get themselves arrested? Were they holding a dignified Anglican service? Actually they were proclaiming the good news of the resurrection of Jesus. And they were doing what Jesus had taught them to do. They had the audacity to be involved in the healing work of Jesus and actually put Luke 9:2 into word and deed.

Why have a healing service on Sunday morning? The answer is quite simple. We are doing what Jesus taught us by word and the example of his life. We are being obedient to his command to heal the sick and preach the kingdom of God.

The question is not so much why have a service that is explicitly dedicated to healing on Sunday morning but why should such a question even arise in the first place? Are we so removed from the heart of Holy Communion that we have forgotten that it is fundamentally a healing service? We celebrate with a healing service once a month so that we may do what Jesus spent his life doing. Healing!

We also do it to remind ourselves that all sacraments are healing services!

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