Toorak Uniting Church

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Good health – God’s plan for us all

Luke 13: 10 – 17
Rev. Robert McUtchen
22 August 2010

What are we to make of the miracle healings carried out by Jesus? Miracle, or "faith" healings are not part of the experience of many Uniting church people.

Miracle healing is regarded with suspicion by many within the reformed church, or they have simply never been exposed to it. May be a cultural discomfort with excessive emotion and hype which seems to be part of what we understand as "faith" or "miracle" healing. Some of it is a suspicion that faith healings imply and rely on a degree of faith by and in the patient, and a concern for the consequences for the patient in the event they are not healed – was it insufficient faith, or NOT God’s will they be healed, or were they somehow out of favour with God? Or is that so many "healers" come out of the southern United States, or California, come with great hype, wear appalling clothes, have big hair, and attract suspicions about the monies they attract. In my School chaplaincy a teacher related how she had been received the laying on of hands by a Pentecostal healer and was completely cured - I had to confess I had never heard of the man. She was convinced she was cured. So faith healings seem to remain mainly the province of the Pentecostal movement.

For all that, we do acknowledge that God may be able to intervene in illness. We pray for healing for those who are sick, although sometimes with the "get out" clause – "Oh God, if it be your will.....". So if the subject does not respond we can rationalise – well, God did not want that happen..... with the subsequent questions of why, why not, and then, what is the true nature of God that some get better and others do not. In my first parish I encountered cancer related illnesses in such number that I was brought to the point where to pray for healing flew in the face of all medical evidence. My dear friend the Catholic priest said to me – Pray for healing – pray for the lot! And I discovered that there is healing and there is healing. One man had a terminal condition, a dysfunctional and chaotic family life. We prayed for him for several months - until he died. But in that period a miracle occurred – he and his family reconciled, and he died in peace surrounded by love. Healing? – he died – but healing of relationships and spirits – A miracle. And so I pray for others now.

We even anoint with oil those who are seriously ill. My Dad, of dour Scots Presbyterian upbringing, surprised us all when in his seventies he accepted anointing with oil and prayers before submitting to heart surgery – he continues 15 years later approaching his 90th birthday! The symbolism of a blessed oil being applied to ones hands and head is a powerful image of the blessing and touch of God, yet many are reluctant to offer or receive it, and it is noticeably absent from much of our practise.

So what is Luke, the physician, the writer who documented Jesus healing acts, wanting to communicate to us? This gospel account is far more than a report of a healing. It concerns God’s desire that life should be lived in its fullness.

The woman presents as having "had an evil spirit that made her ill for 18 years; she was bent over..." Illness was not physical but spiritual in Jesus day. It had to be an evil spirit – they did not understand physical disorders. Those words sum up a life disrupted and incomplete. Physical imperfection or disease saw victims isolated and excluded from society and family life. Jesus disrupts this by breaking into her isolation. He addresses her – unfamiliar women were not to be spoken to. Jesus risks the disapproval of society by breaking into her isolation and acknowledging her. She is now at the centre of attention – instead of beyond the margins. Then Jesus touches her – touching another person today – with our sense of personal space - gives you a clue about the impact of this action. Then women were regarded as unclean to a pious Jew, and to become unclean for an unknown is another thing.

Her illness committed her to captivity or bondage. Jesus tells her she is freed from her illness, but the liberation is profound – in restoring her body she is restored to full communal life and engagement. Naming her as "daughter of Abraham" suggests she is now restored as a member of community, and should be recognised as such. Her former exclusion is ended.

A further point to notice, is the woman’s response – she praises God, not Jesus. She acknowledges from whence her release has come.

The story of the woman’s healing tells the essence of Jesus teaching and ministry. That God desires wholeness for all people which extends beyond physical ailments and relief, to embrace holistically the soul and relief of the pain that comes of isolation and exclusion. Being made straight allows her to resume life, enjoying all that she can see and do, but more, she resumes a full life in community.

This speaks to every person and is good news. God desires health for each person, which extends to health for our souls and our minds, as well as our bodies. Prayer for healing embraces healing of everything. A bodily problem may or may not be resolved, but there can be healing of minds, souls and relationships which may be of more profound affect. When we pray for others consider the possibilities for the subject of your prayer – yes you seek their wholeness and wellness, but look as you pray for other signs that God has intervened. It may be a relationship restored or resolved, it may be deep fear that meets peace, denial that meets acceptance, a closed persona that becomes more open and communicative.

When people ask the question – "why do we come to church?", or "why are we part of a Christian congregation?" – part of the answer is that we are in fellowship with a God who desires such wholeness and wellness. It is God’s desire and plan that we should have life – as Jesus said – I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly". So we gather to celebrate the life we are offered, and as a community to show our thanks in the offering of our time and talents in grateful response. A delightful Jewish toast is "lechaim" – to life! May we all say – TO LIFE!. Amen.

© Rev. Robert McUtchen, 2010


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