As the Republicans and Democrats take up the healthcare issue once again as a means to control the welfare of our country, I think it is appropriate that we address the issue of healthcare from God’s perspective. But before I do, let me tell you what’s been ailing me lately.
This past July, I went to visit an old friend of mine in Phoenix who is dying of liver cancer. She and I had rekindled our friendship a few years back around the time my father in law was diagnosed with Leukemia. Prior to her diagnosis, she had been considered a medical miracle, having been completely healed from Hepatitis C that had laid dormant in her body for nearly 10 years after she successfully completed treatment for heroin addiction. But due to the aggressive nature of her cancer and her past history, she is not eligible for an organ transplant. And so once again her family prays for another miracle.
Sitting with her as she suffered with pain, I couldn’t help but to compare her to my father in law dealing with the agony of his own chemo treatments. But thanks in part to his VA benefits and the many strings that were pulled to get into some very successful medical studies, my father was given a fighting chance. His wife of 47 years, along with his nine adult children and dozens of friends and extended family members, spent the last three years caring for him and praying for a miracle as modern medicine sought a cure for his incurable disease. In spite of the fact the doctors gave him less than three months to live, Vince Walsh was blessed with three more birthday’s and one more grandchild. He passed away in the early morning of August 28th in his home holding his wife’s hand. While his lost is great, the gift of his extended life was even greater.
But that does not make the pain any easier to bear. Even though we know it is impossible to stop the inevitable, we never stop praying for a miracle. Why? Why do we put our faith through such extraordinary pain? Why did Jesus bother to heal the leper or the slave when he knew that they too would eventually pass from this life?
Interestingly, the original Greek word for healing, sozo, has the same root word as that of salvation and wholeness. You see, the early church fathers understood the importance of spiritual healing versus the physical healing obsession that has created today’s multi-billion dollar healthcare industry. That is not to say, I do not believe God works through medical science and therapy. I just think that as God continues to use modern medicine to advance our health, we often forget the importance of spiritual healing for our wellbeing. The purpose of today's lesson is to emphasize that all healing comes from God whether through medicine or through faith.
You see, spiritual healing is God’s offering to us to live a balance life in harmony with the world; a wholeness of body, mind, spirit and relationships through confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. In Matthew’s gospel, the author reveals Jesus as the Messiah. Therefore it is imperative we look beyond the corporate, physical healing of an individual and focus on the more cosmic, spiritual realm where God works to bring about reconciliation between God and humanity, among individuals and communities, and between humanity and the rest of creation.
As the body of Christ, our church is called to participate in God’s spiritual healing. But how can we if we are the ones in need of healing? How will we be at peace if we cannot heal the wounds of our past? How will we reconcile with God, if we are not willing to reconcile with our enemies? As we ponder these questions, I invite you to open your bible back to Matthew 8 found on page 841.
The great theologian Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University claims it is no accident that Matthew begins this passage establishing the location of Jesus. Having come down from the mountain from where he has just given his inaugural Sermon on the Mount, Hauerwas sees the story of Jesus like the story of Moses. But instead of holding tablets that contain the law of God, Jesus comes down from the mountain as the law.
In this light, Matthew begins with a man suffering from leprosy to highlight the significance that such an illness held within Jewish purity laws. Physically speaking, this infectious disease was a great threat to the entire community, so much so the leper was removed from the household and pushed to the outskirts of town away from the general population. The spiritual damage however, was that this man was unable to participate in the traditions that were required by God in the Jewish law.
Regardless of the law, Jesus did not try to avoid the leper who knelt before him. Instead he reached out and touched him with his healing hand, knowing that in doing so would make him unclean in the eyes of the Temple authorities. Humbled before the Lord, the man is healed. In spite of this great miracle, Jesus still expects the man to keep the Levitical law requiring that priests examine a person before he is allowed back into the Temple.
How many people drive past this building who feel like the church has sidelined them, or no longer regard them as worthy to worship with them because of some minor disagreement or something bigger like their political ideology, sexual orientation or mental and physical stability? Jesus crosses the line of social status and self-righteousness to welcome the unclean, the marginalized and the suffering; healing and blessing all who come to him with God’s infinite love and forgiveness.
As the body of Christ, the church is called to show such great hospitality. Part of our healing process as we search to rebuild our community will be to restore the health of our church in God’s glorious love and forgiveness. We do that by opening our doors and welcoming back our brothers and sisters, as God has welcomed us. By opening our doors, we are inviting God to reconcile us with God, and us with the rest of creation.
But even I admit welcoming back a prodigal son is a whole lot easier than accepting someone who is different than us, someone who might threaten our beloved traditions. As the story progresses, we see Jesus reconciles with Israel’s greatest enemy when a Roman centurion seeks him out to heal his paralyzed servant.
Even though the centurion has pledge his allegiance to Caesar, the very ruler who has brought great pain and burden upon God’s people, Jesus welcomes the Roman officer who approaches him as if he knows something that Jesus’ own followers do not. As a man with power and authority, he is able to see Jesus as a person of power and authority. Once again, Jesus breaks from Jewish law that forbids Jews from entering into Gentile homes by offering to go and heal the servant. Hauerwas believes the centurion knows his life and profession are in direct conflict to Jesus' and therefore he refuses the offer.
But more poignantly, Matthew writes that all the Gentile had to do was to ask Jesus to merely speak the word of healing knowing it will be done. Before the great crowd, Jesus declares that nowhere in Israel has he found such faith. In return he heals the servant; transcending time and space to bring joy back into the man’s household. As we see, it takes great faith like Jesus to reconcile with our enemies. And once again, it takes a willingness to cross the line of indifference and provide the healing words of forgiveness. It is not easy for human beings to let go of the past, and so in our prayers Jesus taught us to ask God to forgive our debts and our debtors.
As the church seeks to find a new minister, we need to admit that we are a broken people in need of healing. Some of us suffer from anger and resentment. Some of us feel the pain that comes with losing a spiritual mentor and a beloved friend. Some of us suffer from the lies and betrayal of some one close. There are some of us who suffer with physical afflictions and addiction problems, from anxieties and angst. Some suffer from loneliness, while some suffer alone in bad relationships. For some the pain is new, while for others their torment is buried deep within a long, dark history.
But there is no pain too great or too small that isn’t worthy of God’s healing love. Not even something as mundane as the headache that kept Peter’s mother-in-law from participating in her daily life. In Matthew’s gospel we see the intimate depths that Jesus is willing to go to heal and restore our health, our households and our communities. And that is why he is called the Prince of Peace. To be reconciled to God and to our neighbor is what it means to be at peace. The peace that God freely offers through Jesus Christ is the healing balm that pacifies our pain and restores our health. And so every Sunday, we offer our peace to one another in the name of Christ Jesus.
Later that evening, there were many possessed by demons who are brought to Jesus. He casts out the spirits with a word and cures all who are sick as it was spoken by the prophet Isaiah who said, “the Messiah will bear our infirmities and carry our diseases.” To live in Christlikeness, we are called to reach out and heal those around us, both physically and spiritually. We have the power to do that because we allow the Messiah to bear our sins and restore our health.
We are all sinners. Therefore, we all need healing, not from physical death, which we cannot escape because of our sins, but from the brokenness that made us sick in the first place. In her book, Heal Your Body, author Louise Hay reveals the mental causes for physical illness and offers a metaphysical way to over come them. When my wife looked up the cause of leukemia, she discovered it was one’s feeling of giving up on life. My father in law embraced and celebrated life every day. Throughout his sickness, he never gave up on living life to the fullest for one second. As a reward God gave the world three more years of his wonderful stories, traditional songs, pun-filled jokes, and undying love. The greatest of these is love. If we are to heal as a church so that we can be a church that heals others, we must love one another, seek reconciliation with those we disagree with, and remember our purpose is to bring the peace of God upon earth.
Our faith must be an open door where all are welcome at the table of God’s blessing, to share in life as God has given it to us to live. It begins with turning over our sins and sickness to God. Through our prayers we ask for forgiveness and to restore our relationship with God and with our neighbors and enemies. In doing so, we proclaim the life giving, healing power of Jesus the Messiah who took upon himself the suffering of the world. To have faith in Jesus’ healing authority is to have faith that continues to give life. God’s word is the promise of a renewed and everlasting life. Even in the face of death. The disciples discovered the cross could not kill Israel’s Messiah. And now through him, we have eternal life. Therefore, we are called to pick up our cross and let the healing begin.