Healing is a strange and mysterious business. I wonder if you have ever stopped to reflect on the healing power that resides in each of us. Cut your finger and what happens?
First up there’s blood gushing and that’s not good so your body sends messages to close down the blood supply – a little like turning off the water when the pipe bursts around home. It also sends in special proteins in the blood like fibrin and platelets to create clots and scabs to encapsulate the wound and give a protective covering. This happens within seconds but the repair work at the site will take much longer. There is usually an inflammatory response with a team of cells (including macrophages and neutrophils) sent in to clean up the site and get rid of baddies. Your body can then start rebuilding damaged tissue. New blood vessels are made that can help more blood reach the wound, and special cells start adding substances in preparation for rebuilding cells. It’s putting in the plumbing and the framing in the repair of a house as the wound is built over.
In the final stage of wound healing, a lot of remodeling occurs. Special proteins that were needed for early stages of healing are replaced with tools used for remodeling. A tissue called collagen is important for strength, durability, and scarring of your new skin. There are the final touches put on the house to make sure everything is in the right place. The electrician is involved as nerve endings that were damaged in the injury need to be rebuilt. After all the work is done, you have a completed repair!
The amazing thing I think is that all this just happens. This healing power is built in. It’s alive within each of us.
I think that healing power is of God.
I think we can encourage that power with medical knowledge, with love, with prayer.
I think that power is at work within each of us but it is also all through the universe.
We read the story of the haemorrhaging woman and I bet the question on most minds is ‘how Jesus did that?’ How did he fix her, and what was this faith stuff. We would do well to remember Jesus’ original hearers weren’t so interested in the ‘how’ question because miraculous healings like this were part of their world. People came to Jesus expecting healing. I suspect it is only the dramatic healings that were remembered and there were many other much less dramatic instances of what we might call ‘small steps along the way of healing.’ Some healing might have involved the strength to face what was, or maybe a growth in understanding with no physical changes. Healing is not just physical quick fix. Whatever in Jesus’ world healing happened when the gods smiled on you. Our world view is quite different and we need to be careful getting hooked on miraculous happenings that catch our eye.
Healing is about fixing something that is broken, but what is it that is broken. With Jesus it was usually something bigger than just the individual involved. In our story this morning we should take note that it was a woman involved. What in God’s name possessed her to touch a man and a rabbi. It was a big no no. I know when I greet my sister in law in Malaysia I never touch her. Men and women lead basically separate lives unless you are married. You eat in different spaces. Men touch men and women touch women in public. That was true for Jesus’ world. This woman was literally risking a public stoning in her actions. The original witnesses to this healing had plenty of raised eyebrows.
What courage she had to break the norm. Jesus talks about her faith, but what does that faith look like? Courage to say this issue can be fixed, courage to reach out and do something, courage to trust God might be at work in Jesus. This woman is a wonderful example of faith. She is a great encouragement for every time we sit back and say nothing can be done, or nothing makes a difference. Climate change is much bigger than me… God is small….. we are powerless. Think about this woman and have courage to do something!
But this healing makes you also wonder about the new Jesus community founded where men and women seem to freely mix and women are treated with real respect and value. This woman was reaching out in a radical way and risking public humiliation for breaking norms and rules of acceptability. She was unclean, and she made Jesus unclean. Those rules seemed to disappear in the Jesus community although later the men managed to reinstate some. The healing going on here was something much bigger than a personal fix it job. There were deeper things going on. There was a power released through Jesus but it was more than a ‘fix the physical issue’ power. He was giving witness to a whole new way of being community where there was no longer slave and free, male and female. It’s about relationships, acceptance, love, forgiveness, gratitude, self valuing….. getting a whole lot of things in order including our relationship with God..
The healing power of God was seen in healing individuals, but inevitably there was a societal healing involved as well.
In our society healing has become very individual focused, and very physically focused. We wait for new miracles in the forms of new drugs and new surgical techniques to fix our bodies. We have faith in science, but religious faith has been side-lined. Prayer and healing – that’s for the nutty Pentecostals isn’t it? But it’s strange that scholarly research consistently tells another story. Dale Matthews, Associate Professor of Medicine of Georgetown University, says I encourage everyone in my office to exercise regularly, eat properly, quit smoking, avoid excessive alcohol use, take medicines correctly, wear seatbelts and so on. Should I also tell them to pray, read scriptures, attend worship and work in a soup kitchen? When I look at the research my answer is an emphatic YES! Harold Koenig, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Duke University has a similar message. He points to recent studies that show that religiously active people live longer and have more robust immune systems. Mainline religion is by and large good for us. Others like Herbert Benson Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard point to the beneficial effects of prayer on healing and the importance of a relationship with God and the importance of faith communities who surround us with love and care. Religion is about connection – connection with God and connection with a faith community and by and large these connections are good for us. Prayer is about building that connection and re-orientating our lives in God. It’s not about calling down supernatural intervention, but about setting free the healing power of God that is present within and around us.
I’m interested in headlines telling us that mental health rates are sky rocketing and I can’t help thinking it has something to do with a lack of good religion, a road map to live by, and a sense that we are connected to something bigger than us. Rocketing rates of anxiety have something to do with the reality that our society has rejected religion and faith. Good religion offers a framework to live by, and offers meaning when we hit the big crunches of life like death or some other crises. It is good for us. Having a sense that we are part of something bigger is good for us. There are exceptions of course and religious communities can go horribly wrong, but by and large participating in this community of faith is good for you.
I think the evidence is overwhelming that there is a strong link between spiritual practice and health and it’s time for mainline churches and Christians to get their heads out of the sand and recognize talk of healing in our midst is not kooky or weird, but it is a core part of what we are here for. I believe there is a healing power within each of us that can be awakened, strengthened, and encouraged through prayer and the experience of love. It’s not that we should reject traditional medicine and the huge advances science has heralded in treating illness. They are also an expression of the healing power that is God. I hold on to a belief that God can be present in all treatments – drugs, diet, surgery, alternative medicines and therapies, counselling, love and acceptance, and spiritual practices. But what puzzles me is that people don’t turn to prayer and don’t ask for prayer more often. I don’t think I have a particular gift of healing but I’m happy to pray any time that the healing power of god will be set free in some way. There will be some in our congregation who have gifts of releasing God’s healing power, but I suspect they hide their gift for fear of being labelled kooky.
Calvin Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania is typical of a mainline church with a healing ministry. They said healing was an important part of their journey as a group of Christians. They appointed a prayer minister to lead this area of their work. The person currently exercising this ministry, Diane McCluskey, is a Reiki master and massage therapist. She believes healing comes not just through spoken prayer but through other means such as massage, reflexology, and other practices. At Calvin they regularly offer a time for healing prayer and the laying on of hands. They are discovering the practice of healing and prayer is important in their life as a Christian community, and you know what – they are a growing church. People see that religion makes a difference, and that the power of God is alive in their midst.
They have found at Calvin that healing is not just about physical healing and it isn’t just a personal matter. Healing will often mean someone finding a greater wholeness in their life and will often lead to someone understanding more deeply their unique purpose in life and their part in God’s plan to heal the world. People who experience God’s healing will often be turned outward and begin to undertake some ministry to others in the community. It’s not just about a personal physical fix. They have discovered at Calvin that some people seem to particularly channel the power of God’s healing – they have a gift of healing. They have also discovered that typically healing is not a dramatic event but that it is a process that takes place over time. It often involves being healed from the damage of un-forgiveness, or a sense of rejection and unworthyness. So it may involve finding God’s forgiveness for some event in our past, or the letting go of a grudge that we have been holding for some time. Invariably it will result in the discovery of greater acceptance of ourselves and a stronger sense of wanting to serve God in serving others.
I invite you to take the healing power more seriously.
The healing power that is of God.
The healing power we can encourage with medical skill and knowledge, with love, with prayer.
The healing power that is alive in you and through all through the universe.
Dugald Wilson 1 July 2018