Summary: A sermon preached at a healing service while I was visiting a Lutheran church in Sweden (This is the English text - it was translated as I gave it by my host)
The little baby Mary wasn't expected to live. She was now in hospital. Her parents had been told to expect the worst. But the curate from the local church refused to give up. Day after day he went and prayed by her bedside.
Seven decades later I met Mary. The baby who was meant to die was now a perfectly healthy early retired woman.
“Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases and sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal “ (Luke 9:1-2)
Ours is a God who heals.
Of course not every prayer for healing gets answered the way I would like. On one occasion in John's Gospel Jesus goes to a pool surrounded by disabled people, and it is only one person whom Jesus heals. I don't know why every prayer doesn't get answered but I do know that God answers prayer. I could share stories of people who I prayed for who were not healed, but I can also share stories of people like Mary, seventy years later still healthy. Or my friend, let's call her Sarah. Sarah is a young mum in her early 30s. She was diagnosed with a stomach cancer. The doctors told her they would operate because that might buy her some time, but they would not be able to remove the whole of both tumours. But the church did not give up hope. We prayed. And we prayed. And when Sarah came round from the operation the doctor told her he couldn't believe it : they had managed to remove every part of the tumours. There are no promises, but several months and several tests later she is still absolutely clear.
So why does God heal?
I think that's the same question as why does God come to us in bread and wine in the mass (that we have just received)?
God could say “I love you. Don't worry, you are going to die but you will be with me in the sky”
But he doesn't.
God could tell us in the Bible “I love you” and not come to us in the bread and wine of communion.
But he doesn't.
There's an episode of Star Trek where there is an alien that is just a mind floating around in space. Some people think we are like that, that we are really just minds.
But I am not just a mind [pointing to my arm, and knee and foot] this is me… This is me… This is me…. I am not just a mind, I am a bodily person.
If my little boy wants to tell me he loves me he doesn't say [stand absolutely rigid with arms by side and say in a stiff voice] “I...Love...You”, he gives me a hug [mime it].
In the same way God doesn't just say in the Bible [say robotically] “I love you”, he gives us the hug, the touch that is physical presence in the bread and wine of communion.
In the same way, when people are sick Jesus doesn't just say “Don't worry, you are going to die but you'll be with me in the sky “ : he heals people.
The second century Bishop Irenaeus asks, if God doesn't care about our bodies why does Jesus heal the man with the withered arm. No, says Irenaeus, Jesus heals the man because our bodies matter, and in the afterlife with God we shall in some sense have bodies. We are bodily people.
Back in 2005 I was in Sierra Leone as part of a team of clergy doing a mission. And at the end of each evening’s teaching we would have prayer ministry. And a few days into the mission a man came forward. It was just like in the movies. Here was a guy on crutches. He couldn’t walk. We had seen him every day and he could not walk. Then he came up for prayer and suddenly he wasn’t just walking, he was dancing. The only problem? It wasn’t me who was praying for him! I was praying for a long line of people and at one moment I saw this guy limping up on his crutches to my colleague next to me and the next he was dancing.
The problem? I want to be the great healer! I want people to come up to me and be miraculously healed. But God doesn’t heal people to make me look good. God heals people because he loves them. The people I prayed for may well have had gradual halings in response to my prayers. And that is just as important because it is not about looking good.
Vs 6 “So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.”