Service of Healing and Renewal of Strength

Phyllis Anderson—February 8, 2012
PLTS Chapel of the Cross

Mark 1:29–39

Last Wednesday this community was deeply moved by Jane Strohl’s sermon. She said out loud what many of us have experienced. There are demonic powers in the church that crush the soul and quench the spirit. Congregations can be cruel. Bishops and candidacy committees have great power and they can get it wrong. While we are at it, we should acknowledge that this seminary, our own community, can also inflict pain and those in authority here are not immune to the forces of evil.

Can this same church be the source of healing? That is a dilemma. With all its problems and human failings…and capacity to hurt, the church is Christ’s body in the world and it offers healing in the name of Jesus. Today in this chapel some of you here will experience that healing. You are all invited to come forward for prayer and laying on of hands and anointing with oil. We dare to hope that here we will find healing and renewal of strength.

The lessons we read today give us reason to hope. They are full of promise.

The Gospel of Mark says: Jesus took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her up and her fever left her. And again: He cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons.

The Psalmist says: Our God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

The Prophet says: Even youths will faint and grow weary and the young will fall exhausted, but those who wait for our God shall renew their strength.

We do not have to look far to see the need for healing. Like the crowds of who gathered on Peter’s porch at sunset, we are close to suffering on every side. Tomorrow our very good friend and Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod, Mark Holmerud, undergoes surgery for prostate cancer. We worry for him and for us. We love him and need him to be healthy to be who he is and do the amazing work he does. We hurt for him. We long for healing for him.

I know that members of this community are suffering. Every week there are members of this community who weep unseen through worship here. I’ve had occasion to share my box of Kleenex more than once in the last week alone. We cry here for those we love who are sick or dying. We shed fresh tears as we mark the anniversaries of those whose death we mourn. We weep when love is not returned and relationships are broken. We cry for faltering faith and the loss of our dreams. We are at a loss because we feel so alone—among people who we hoped would be more like us. We cry for sheer bone weariness. We cry in despair beneath the mountain of all we have to do. We cope with chronic diseases. Old injuries plague us. Our backs and feet and knees ache. We await dread diagnosis. Demons threaten to undo us. We are riddled with self-doubt. We are poisoned by bitterness. We have disabilities that make it hard to learn and hard to keep up. We are frustrated by the challenge of managing in a second language or an alien culture. We are often homesick.

The need for healing extends far beyond what we experience here. If we lift our gaze we see our home planet choking on chemicals and exhaust fumes. We witness nations torn by war and our own veteran returning home damaged in body and spirit. So many people without work. So many people living on the street. So much violence in our cities. So much fundamental unfairness. So many broken systems—including the health care system itself . . . and even the church.

So we gather here—this little company of pilgrims and disciples—and sing songs about strength renewed and health restored. We gather here and ask for healing. How could we do otherwise? Where else could we turn? You have the words of eternal life.

We come for healing as hurting people have done since time immemorial. There have always been healers. Nature religions have their shamans and tribal religions have their medicine men. The gift of healing is alive in Jewish Hasidic traditions. Healing is rooted deeply in Islam. Casting out demons is a vital part of the Christian experience in Africa where the church is growing by leaps and bounds.

Abuses and trickery abound…but healing happens. Not everyone is healed in the way that they hope or pray or need to be healed. Paul was left with his famous thorn in the flesh. I remember years and years ago, the young son of a faculty colleague suggesting that his family stop praying for sick relatives and friends at the dinner table, because he had astutely noticed that most of the people they prayed for died. Yet, healing undeniably happens and it happens in God’s name.

We come here today to ask for healing. Truth be told, I do not even know what that means, exactly. How does God heal? It remains a mystery. What difference does this smear of oil make? I don’t know. What do these words and gestures DO in the face of all these gaping wounds?

I do not know much, but these things I do know:

I do know that abundant life is God’s desire for you. This abundant life includes your body as well as your psyche and your soul. God created all things good and God longs for each of us to be restored to that essential goodness.

I do know that God’s will does not fail. In the end, in God’s own time, God will have God’s own way and we will be healed of all our diseases. We will be made whole.

I do know that there is magic and mercy and, yes, healing, when we name our wounds out loud to another person in God’s presence. It is good for the soul to come to terms with the ways in which we are broken. It helps not to hide any more. There is health in that alone

I do know that God works through things, simple things…God works through people, through touch, through elements like wine and bread and oil. The Jesus who touched Peter’s mother and drove out her fever depends on us now—on our hands, on our touch, on our words. The power of the living Christ comes through our bodies. It is an awesome thing to serve as a minister of healing as some of us will today—to lay our hands on your heads and anoint you with oil. I may not understand it, but I have felt the power flowing through me when I have done this before.

I do know that health and wholeness are not ends in themselves. Our goal is not a pain free, stress free life of luxury. We are healed in this life for a purpose. We are healed that we may help. That we may serve, just as Peter’s mother-in-law did. The fever left her and she began to serve them. Just like that!

So in coming for healing today, you take a risk. You might just be healed. Your spirit just might be renewed and your full strength released. You might just be made whole so that you can give yourself with abandon. Nothing more to hold you back. You just might be set free so that you can risk your life to heal this broken world.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, come forward, if you dare, and receive the gift of healing for all your hurts. Come in honesty and humility. Come believing what you may not fully understand. Come trusting in a church that has not always been trustworthy. Come today and receive what is promised: peace beyond your fear and hope beyond your sorrow.