Salvation as Healing
Isaiah 53:3-6 James 5:13-18
Can I take you back in time to about 1600 years ago? There was a debate going on in the church.
- The Western areas of the church told us that we humans, by our very nature, are very wicked.
The Eastern side of the church said we are very weak in the presence of temptations.
- The West said we are sinners.
The East said, we are sick.
- The West said, we are depraved.
The East said we have been deprived.
- The West said we are criminals.
The East said we are victims
- The West said, we need to repent!
The East said, we need to be restored.
- The West said, we need forgiveness.
The East said, we need healing.
- The West said, we need to be saved from the judgment of God.
The East said, we need to be saved from becoming more damaged than we already are.
Now that was one of the saddest times in the history of the Christian church. Both sides were right. And in the first four centuries those two halves of the one true coin were kept together. But then the church got fractious, and the West went its way and the East went its way, and they refused to talk to each other. Both sides got lopsided in the process.
In the West the great concern became, “how do I get saved from sin, so I can go to heaven when I die? How can I escape the judgment of God, which I deserve because of my wickedness? Getting saved meant we get the equivalent of a green card that says when we die, we can immigrate to heaven and pass the scrutiny of homeland security.
But in the East the fundamental question was, “Can God do anything with sin and sinfulness, other than forgive it? Can he break the addiction? Can he purify the source of our affections? Can he give us the power of His Holy Spirit so that we do not have to keep on sinning? Can God grant us an empowerment that will strengthen us with might by his spirit in the inner person? Can he bring healing to the deep hurt that pervades our life?
The East knew that we need forgiveness, but they knew that we needed something else. We need to find healing for the brokenness within. We need Jesus the mediator, but we also need Jesus the great physician.
Centuries later John & Charles Wesley saw we needed something more than forgiveness. Guilt and shame, impotence and unhappiness ravaged the inner peace and joy of so many. They heard the cries of those that longed for healing of their broken lives. Listen to the words of one of the hymns of Charles that described the human condition.
While Dead in trespasses I lie
Thy Quickening Spirit Give;
Call me, Thou Son of God, that I
May hear Thy voice and live.
While full of anguish and disease,
My weak distempered soul
Thy love compassionately sees –
O let it make me whole!
While torn by hellish pride I cry,
By legion-lust possessed,
Son of the Living God, draw nigh
And speak me into rest!
Cast out Thy foes, and let them still
To Jesus name submit;
Clothe with Thy righteousness, and heal
And place me at Thy feet….
Impotent, dumb, and deaf, and blind
And sick, and poor I am,
But sure a remedy to find
For all, in Jesus name.
I know in Thee all fullness dwells,
And all for wretched man;
Fill every want my spirit feels
And break off every chain….
From sin, the guilt, the power, the pain,
Thou wilt redeem my soul;
Lord, I believe, and not in vain –
My faith shall make me whole.
Our Culture’s Preoccupation with Healing
Of course, our present culture is aware of our need for health & healing. In fact, there is a preoccupation with health in our culture. We spend a major part of our national wealth on health care. We spend enormous amounts insuring ourselves against the high cost of ill health. We spend billions on vitamin supplements and health enhancing exercise equipment, making sure that we eat the right cereals, and the right fat-free products. And all of that is fine. It makes sense to stay healthy. But here is the problem. Very rarely is there any similar attempt to ensure the health of the mind and of the spirit. Very little is spent to enhance the health of human relationships. Very little is invested in spiritual vitality.
For we are more than bodies. We have minds. We are spiritual beings. We live in relationships. To have our bodies buff, but to leave our minds ill, to be sick in spirit, to live out our lives in fractured relationships, is to be ill at the center of our lives. Science has been telling us for decades that many of the illnesses of our bodies are due to the deeper illnesses within. Much of what happens in our bodies is due in part to what happens in our emotional lives. We have heard the words spoken in anger “You make me sick.” It’s true. We know that worry and anxiety can chew on the digestive system and cause illness. We know that anger can increase blood pressure, and stress can take its toll on our bodies. We know that feelings of guilt can wreak havoc in our health.
Internal unhealthiness can poison the body. And so, to cure the body and not the spirit would be a very hollow victory. If much of our illness is caused at the psychological and spiritual levels, we will need to be healed there first, if any degree of physical wholeness is to be maintained. Jeremiah the prophet (6:14 / 8:11) complained about the leaders of Israel. He says, “They have healed the hurt of my people only slightly.” They have not gone far enough. The healing has been superficial. God wants to heal from the center to the periphery of our lives, and not simply let us settle for a health on the outside.
Sin & Sickness are connected
So back to the debate between the East & the West. What God has joined together, let no one put asunder! All the way through scripture there is a very close connection between sin and suffering.
During the ministry of Jesus, the disciples came upon a man who had been blind from birth. The super-orthodox disciples ask the question, “Teacher, who sinned? This man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “neither this man nor his parents, but since he was born blind, let the mighty works of God now be revealed in him.”
The long presumption has been that God brings judgment down on those who sin, in the form of illness or tough circumstances. That is in need of serious alteration. It is our sinning against ourselves and one another that causes much of the pain we experience.
Our anger does its own kind of damage.
Our fear brings its own paralysis.
Our grief wears down the health of our bodies.
Our own selfishness damages our relationships.
In fact, most of the pain we feel in life is not the results of microbes and avalanches, but unkind words, unhealthy thoughts, damaged relationships. A broken leg heals up in a matter of weeks. A broken spirit can take a lifetime to recover from.
Do you remember the childhood doggerel, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” You know that is pure fiction. Words can haunt us and hurt us till the day we die. Verbal abuse can be as bad as physical and sexual abuse. On top of that, attitudes and actions of our younger days, can dog our consciences and cripple our lives years later. So much of our hurt is damage to our spirits, and not only our bodies.
Now I am not trying to add guilt on top of grief or add insult to injury, but it is often helpful to probe beyond the physical illnesses of our lives, to see if some of our illnesses have roots that go deeper. Why do I say this? Look at the tendency of the scriptures.
When Solomon is praying, God says to him, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land.” Forgiveness and healing!” (II Chronicles 7:14.)
In Psalm 103:3 the psalmist sings that God “Forgives all our iniquities, heals all our diseases.” There it is again. Forgiveness and healing!
Do you remember the story of the day when Jesus is teaching in a house, a man who is paralyzed is lowered down by his friends for Jesus to heal him. Jesus first words are “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” And then later he is healed of his illness. There is often a connection between the inner and the outer.
The most crucial passage that deals with healing in the New Testament is a passage found in the book of James. To the early church he offers this counsel:
Are any among you suffering? Let them pray.
Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.
Are any among you sick? They should call the elders of the church, and have them pray, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed, for the prayers of righteous people are powerful and effective.”
Did you notice the intertwining of the taking sin as well as sickness with utmost seriousness?
Now, because we all have the capacity to not hear clearly, let me add one more reality.
Some of our sicknesses do not rise from our illness of spirit. Sometimes viruses and bacteria, sometimes accident or external circumstances, cause us hurt. Some diseases are spread from one person to another, sometimes our hurt comes from the toxins we breath or the foods we eat. There is not always a relationship between sickness and our sinning. Very good people die of diseases. Viruses are no respecters of persons. Some of us are ill due to no complicity of our own. But all illness is a cause of distress and calls for relief.
Does God then want to bring healing? Oh yes! Healing from the terrible things that cause us to hurt and injure one another. Healing for the internal fracturing that takes place. Healing for the attitudes that chew up our lives and rob us of peace. God wants to bring healing to the nations. Healing to the church. Healing to our families, and healing to our lives.
So, what do we do when illness comes? We are not masochists who take delight in suffering. We should take steps for its removal. See the doctor. Take the medicine. Eat right. Live right. Illness is not the preference of God for us. The life of Jesus gives evidence for that. He went about doing good and brought healing to the hurt.
But when the medicines do not work, and the physician is unable to bring relief. Then bring the matter to God in prayer. But a note here. When we are sick, discouraged or depleted, it is hard to pray. So, James reminds us “If we are ill, call for the spiritual leaders of the church” to pray with us. The prayers of God’s people have a remarkable efficacy.
But what do we do if the medications, surgery and the prayers do not seem effective? Return to God in prayer and commit the whole matter to God, and pray something like this: “O lord, do not let this difficult time in my life be wasted. If health doesn’t come, then let your grace come instead. Let some good come out of this. If healing does not come for my body, then please bring healing to my spirit.” For this we know about God, The Christ who transformed the cross can transform our hurt so that it does not bring us harm, but brings healing to the deeper levels of our life.
Holy Communion& The Healing of human Hurts
Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it in all its fullness.”
The Apostle said, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
Loving God In whom all things are made whole,
You sent your Son to be our Saviour
And to heal a broken world.
Visit us with your salvation,
That we may be healed
In body, mind, and spirit,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer of Confession
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word and deed:
we have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.
We ask you, in your mercy
forgive what we have been,
Heal that which is broken in us, and
Strengthen us for the days ahead;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Let us confess any sin in our lives in these moments of silent prayer.
Let us confess anything in our lives, past, present or future, that is causing us pain this day.
Let us confess that sin or need to each other, if God has so inclined us.
Assurance of Pardon
To all who have confessed their sins from the heart,
let me pass on to you the good news, “your sins are forgiven.”
Hear the good news!
Christ died for us while we were so weak!
Christ died for us while we were still sinners!
He died for us!
That is the only evidence we need, to believe that God loves us.
It is through Jesus Christ, we are forgiven!
It is through Jesus Christ we are made whole.
Thanks be to God.
Preparing for Communion
It is a right and joyful thing
Always and everywhere to give thanks to You,
Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
In the beginning, when darkness covered the face of the earth,
And nothing existed but chaos,
Your Spirit swept across the waters.
You spoke but a word,
And light appeared in the darkness.
At the right time you sent your Son Jesus Christ:
Who lived among us and knew human pain and suffering;
He called all who were burdened and heavy laden
And gave them rest;
He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and ate with sinners;
He delivered the oppressed and showed us the way home;
He took our suffering upon Himself
That we might be cleansed of our sins
And receive abundant life.
And so, with all your people on earth
And all saints and angels in heaven
We praise Your name, and join their song,
“Holy, Holy, Holy, God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Glory be to You O Lord most high!”
Words over the Bread
On the night in which Jesus gave himself up for us
He took bread, and gave thanks to You,
He broke the bread and gave it to his disciples and said;
“Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you,
Do this in remembrance of me.”
Words over the Wine
He also took the cup and gave thanks to You,
Then he gave it to his disciples and said
“Drink from this, all of you.
This is my blood of the New Covenant.
Poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Prayer over the Oil
O God, the giver of health and salvation,
As your holy apostles anointed
Those who were sick and healed them,
So, pour out your Holy Spirit upon us through this gift,
that all who come in faith and repentance,
upon receiving this anointing may be made whole.
And now, Eternal Father, we thank you
For giving us your Holy Spirit as we are gathered here.
We ask you to strengthen us
With these gifts of bread and wine and oil.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.
I anoint you with oil,
in the name of the Father and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit;
for the healing of your body and your spirit.
We lay our hands upon you in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord
and pray that the power of God’s indwelling presence
may heal you of all illness,
in your body, your mind, your spirit and in your relationships.
The Prayer of Dismissal
Almighty God, we pray that we
May be comforted in our sufferings and be made whole.
When we are afraid, give us courage;
When we feel weak, grant us your strength;
When we are afflicted, afford us patience;
When we are lost, offer us hope;
When we are alone, move others to our side;
In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make his face to shine upon you,
And be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
The love of God the Father
And the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit
Be with all of you, now and forever. Amen.
Let us go in Peace to love and serve.