Sermon for 9am Sunday 21 July 2019
2 Kings 20: 1-11 and Revelation 21: 1-4
I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you
I had a wide brief to follow in preparing this sermon. I needed to choose my own reading, and I could speak on any topic which fits with the theme of healing. This was agreed in principle more than 3 months ago. Since them I have been turning the matter over in my mind, searching for the right Bible story, wondering what my message would be.
First of all I decided to investigate exactly what we mean when we talk about healing. This was a very profitable avenue! Firstly, a scientific (medical) definition:
- What is healing? You can cure without healing, and you can heal without curing. In medical school and residency, most of our training focused on curing. … But healing and curing are inherently different. Curing means “eliminating all evidence of disease,” while healing means “becoming whole”.
- Remember that definition: healing is “becoming whole”. This really chimed for me. A few years ago, I was talking to Jacqui Fudge about that thorny issue: why doesn’t God heal everyone we pray for? Jacqui pointed out that He WILL heal EVERYONE who wants to be healed, but he doesn’t always cure Remember the definition given? We don’t always see the “elimination of all evidence of the disease” but we can nonetheless see healing, a return to wholeness, even if that wholeness is a different kind of wholeness than before. Jacqui gave me an example of a lady she was praying for at the time, who had a terminal illness. The lady was healed, and she died. In this case the healing was the peace of mind that the lady achieved, a coming to terms with what her journey now looked like. It was different to what she had imagined, but it was still her journey. We might not receive exactly what we ask for, but we can still be healed.
- Perhaps you can think of an example in your own life when you have received a terrible shock, a need for healing. My son has type 1 diabetes, an unwelcome 17th birthday present. He has been living with that condition for 7 years now. He has been told that he will never be cured, that it is a life long situation which he daily makes accommodations for. If he doesn’t, the consequences will be devastating. He has not been cured. I can’t speak for him, but from my own point of view I feel we have received some healing. A new normal has established itself. He understands what he needs to do, and does it. He is determined that he will follow the original advice of his doctor, and control the condition, not let it control him. It isn’t the way we thought it would be for him, but it’s broadly OK, thanks to the incredible skills of doctors and nurses and researchers, and thanks to prayer. Maybe that has some resonance for you? I hope it does as you recall painful times, and measure changes.
Because I have been thinking about healing, albeit in a background kind of a way, I have noticed a surprising number and types of situations where healing is needed:
- On a personal level I have many friends and family who need healing prayer for themselves, or who ask for prayers of healing on behalf of those they love
- In our church family some relationships are in need of healing. Some of our members no longer attend or are seldom with us. A separation has developed.
- One recent example from our wider local community; the state of the churchyard has caused distress and hurt, which needs healing
- In our nation there has been a frightening increase in aggressive and divisive attitudes as we struggle with the fallout of the referendum which split us 3 years ago
- In international news this week some shocking language has been used, and incredible beliefs expressed, employing phrases which I had naively thought we had moved on from (small island? Clare’s experience on bus?)
On the flip side, during this period of preparation I have also been more alert to stories of God’s healing power than I might otherwise have been. I am trying (for the 3rd or 4th time) to read the whole Bible in one year. It is going better than previous attempts so far….(only about 3 days behind!) In the course of the last 3 months I have read of healing in the Old Testament and in the Acts of the Apostles, as well as the Gospel stories of Jesus’ miracles of healing, which are perhaps better known. A couple of weeks ago the church service focused on the story of Naaman being cured of his leprosy. Today I have chosen another example of healing in the Old Testament, and I want to look at what lessons we can draw from it for our healing today.
Some things to consider:
- As he lies facing death, Hezekiah calls out: “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” Hezekiah lived under the old covenant. He had faithfully kept the law and served God: he had been the only good king in about 100 years of Judah’s history!
- “Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord” As a result of both Hezekiah’s unusual faithfulness, and his private and fervent prayer, he was physically healed, he was in fact cured. Prayer was the key. Prayer, a conversation with God. Speaking and listening. Even on a human level, speaking and listening about something which is on your mind can be healing, comforting. How much more so if you are speaking to omnipotent and loving God!
- God’s response was given through Isaiah: ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. I love this response, showing the infinite compassion of God, if we will only be in a real relationship with Him, talking with Him about our sorrows. He will heal us, but we have to want to be healed, to ask to be healed.
I want to use a mathematical object as an analogy to help us think about how prayer might bring us closer to God, to allow us ask for healing and to be healed. (surprise!) You have a strip of paper and a paper clip, and a pen or pencil, I hope.
- Write God on one side of the paper, and your name on the other. Join the 2 ends to make a cylinder, like this. (Match a to a, b to b) This object definitely has 2 faces, or sides. God is on one side and you are on the other. You can reach God, but you have to cross over an edge.
- Undo your cylinder, and let’s introduce a half twist. In my analogy, this twist is prayer. Before you rejoin the strip with your paper clip, introduce a twist, (or some prayer!) by matching a to b and b to a. Take your pencil or pen, and start at the word God. Run your pencil/pen over the surface of the paper, drawing a line down the middle. Keep going as far as you can.
- This really is a surprise! There is no barrier between your name and God now! The twist, representing prayer, has united what were two separate surfaces into one. This is known as a Mobius strip. If I undo the Mobius strip you will see that there was only one surface, as I have drawn on what are now again 2 separate sides: the twist/prayer had made them one smooth continuous whole. Remember the medical definition of healing? Healing is “becoming whole”.
There is a well-known quote from JulIan of Norwich all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. This sums up her belief that she could be joyful in all circumstances, because ultimately God will make all things right. This is what is promised in the words from Revelation “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
In this passage God’s dwelling place is now among the people, he will dwell with them. Nothing separates them anymore. Compare the cylinder which definitely has 2 sides and the need to cross the edge to be with God, with the Mobius band, which only has one side. God and I are now on the same side. With prayer this wholeness, or one ness with God, can be achieved. Amazing claim!
I am NOT suggesting there that pain and grief and all the sorrows of this world are easy or trivial for Christians to bear. We know that is not true. But what I AM suggesting is that, in the end everything will be alright, and if things are not alright, it’s not the end. We have God’s promise of that.
To conclude and push my analogy a little further…when God and I are separated, through a lack of prayer, and trouble comes, division is obvious.
- Cut cylinder. Without this completeness, this unity becomes 2 separate halves.
However, if I keep the twist of prayer in, and remember to pray to God for healing, the trouble will still come but…
- Cut Mobius band, and a new band appears, not 2 parts. With the closeness, the unity, something new, but not broken. Something unexpected but beautiful in its own way.
So, in conclusion: remember to put a little twist in your life! Or more biblically, remember God’s words to Hezekiah:
I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you