Desperate for Healing

 courtesy of Photodisc, gettyimages.com

The text I’ve just read for you from the fifth chapter of Mark contains a story of healing within another story of healing.

I think my sermonic focus was drawn to revisit texts about Jesus’ healing ministry because I spent portions of three days this week visiting and praying for members of our church family at Anderson and Barnes Hospital.

Anyone who has been in a hospital knows that the holistic ministry Jesus practiced no longer exists. Today, there are many specialists and sub-specialists that facilitate the process of healing, from the EMTs who arrive at the doorstep of someone in medical crisis, all the way to the therapists who provide transitional care as an individual is returning to daily routines in his or her home.

Often, I feel near the bottom of the health care hierarchy. But it’s amazing that some these folks still welcome me as part of your health care team. Sometimes, they even give me a badge to show that I’m not a threat – or an attorney, or an insurance adjuster. Sometimes, I feel the way that I imagine many of them do, as I see them on their cell phones briskly moving through the hallways and bounding up and down stairways. They could tell us stories of healing interrupted by even more stories of healing.

It was disconcerting for Jesus to feel some change in the energy surrounding him, and can be disconcerting for health care providers, too, even when the “change in energy” is simply the mobile phone buzzing in their coat pockets, alerting them to another person who needs support.

During one of this week’s visits to the intensive care unit, memories of Earl and Barbara came to mind, memories more than twenty years old.

Earl had been a handsome young man. In the old black-and-white photograph, he sat proudly behind the wheel of an old Model T Ford, his sweetheart Barbara at his side. He had purchased that car in the days before his faith had “suffered,” during the time he was answering God’s call to service as a Baptist preacher to a little country church.

When his faith suffered, he went into finance. After a long career, he retired as a senior officer with Bank IV in Kansas, before it was purchased by Boatmen’s Bank, which eventually was gobbled up in another one of the seemingly endless bank mergers. In retirement, he loved to play golf, and was fond of cigars.

After Earl and Barbara passed their 60th anniversary, a couple of health problems emerged. This was a sort of “first stage” in their journey of illness and healing. The problems were quickly diagnosed, the pastor’s prayers simple, the physician’s solution implemented, and health restored.

Then, about a year later, illness re-emerged, first for Barbara, then for Earl. It seemed one was barely discharged from the local medical center when the other one would be admitted. At first, they joked that they were trading places, one keeping the hospital bed warm for the other.

Later, during a hospitalization to repair his colon, Earl told me that his faith was suffering again. He recalled the old days, and the crisis that had driven him from the ministry in anger. He talked about the pain his lovely Barbara had experienced, and how her pain, more than his own, moved him to despair.

This situation represented a “second stage” in the journey of illness and healing. The problems were more difficult, and the doctor’s solutions not as likely to provide full restoration of health. Looking up at me from his bed, attached to needles and bottles and tubes and bags, Earl’s face told me that he was desperate for healing. The pastor’s prayer reflected his pain and pleading.

I feel that sort of desperation and pain when I read the story of Naaman in the fifth chapter of 2 Kings, and the stories in Mark 5 about Jairus’s daughter and the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak. A proud general is incapacitated by a skin disease. A father stands helpless because his young daughter is at death’s threshold. A woman is plagued by a chronic twelve-year illness.

In the New Testament text, the Greek verb “sozo,” translated “save,” appears three times. Jairus begs Jesus to come and lay his hands on his daughter, “so that she may be saved, and live” (vs.23). The ill woman expresses the hope “If I may touch his garments, I shall be saved” (vs. 28). At the end of this encounter, Jesus tells the woman, “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace, and be healed of your affliction” (vs. 34).

In each case, the context makes it clear that the salvation described includes physical healing. The editors of our NRSV have translated these passages in a way that makes this clear.[i] Jesus saved then, and Jesus still saves today, though the ministry of healing has been divided and separated from the ministry of most Christian congregations.

In the story of Earl and Barbara, there came a peaceful interlude. Though diminished in energy, they regained a measure of physical health. It was my privilege to attend, with a hundred friends and family members, their 65th wedding anniversary celebration, a day of great joy for Earl and Barbara.

Not too long after that, a very natural thing happened. One night, Barbara passed away. Then, in turn, Earl died. It is during weeks like this one that we should remind ourselves that such deaths represent not the failure of faith, but in fact, a great victory. Like our friend Flo G., Earl and Barbara had reached a “third stage” in the journey of illness and healing. They were “saved” in all the fullness with which Mark’s gospel uses the word. In life, we experience God, who often offers us the grace of physical healing. In death, our faith is fully restored, and we are made well.

That is good news to remember when a friend comes alongside you in the midst of your medical journey. One of the great privileges of ministry is being granted access to people during both the high and low moments times of life. The presence of a pastor (or elder, or deacon) reminds us to trust the One who is the source of life and health, and offers an opportunity to pray with a friend when we are too weak, confused, or scared to pray alone.

I might add that some of you have amazing God-given gifts for this ministry. For instance, this week I observed elders and deacons serving hospitalized friends. I’m grateful for their ministry, as I am for the ministry of so many of you! On the one hand, you or I can’t possibly measure up to the goodness and grace of Jesus. On the other hand, called by God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, together we are Christ for the world today. So may it continue to be.

NOTES

[i] Lamar Williamson, Jr., “Mark,” Interpretation Commentary Series, Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1983, p. 110.

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~ by JohnH1962 on July 12, 2015.

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