20 August, 2012

Healing Service Homily (Aug 2012)

Readings: 2 Kings 5:1-14 - John 5:2-17

It has taken many years, centuries in fact, for the Church to come to terms with some of the meanings of suffering. We are still far from understanding everything, but I think we are moving in the right direction.
If we were to consider suffering, healing, and wholeness according to the faith of the Prayer Book, the ancient Church of England faith, we would have to affirm that suffering is the punishment of God for the sins of a person or of a group of people. Indeed, there are some Christians who would still hold this line; a couple of our bishops have spouted similar judgments in the last couple of years. For example, you do something wrong, and God’s punishment will be upon you in a very physical and tit for tat sort of way. Parliament pronounces itself against or in favour of certain things, and disaster strikes our land.
But as we see in tonight’s readings that neither the prophet Elisha, nor Jesus seem mindful of the sins committed by the people whom they meet.
The man who visits Elisha is not even a Jew, he does not worship God at all, and comes to the prophet only because he has faith in Elisha’s own powers, not in the God of Israel. Naaman is only concerned about his illness, and about finding a cure for it. Does Elisha turn him away? Does he ask him to convert to Judaism? But let me take is a step further, what would we do if someone who is not a Christian came to us to receive prayer and laying on of hands?
In our Gospel reading, a man is healed by Jesus. However, this man does not know the Messiah; he is just mindful of his own sufferings and at first he cannot even understand who he is talking to. Does Jesus ask him about his faith? Does Jesus tell him that he is in this condition because of his sins?
Later in our stories look what happens. When both men are freed from their sufferings they are able to recognise the power of God at work in their lives. The man from Aram starts worshipping God with his whole heart, and the man by the pool of Bethsaida is able to recognise Jesus for who he is.
Often suffering weights us down and makes to us see only ourselves and our pain. It makes us self-centred rather than God-centred. Often it does not allow us to see God and discover his power at work in the world. In this sense suffering is the leash that keeps us bound to the world order completely overthrown by Jesus.
And so we see that we come to Jesus for healing, whatever our agenda or our thoughts may be, we recognise on the Cross a suffering akin to our own, and in it we see God. This was part of the story of Salvation, that through Jesus we would see God even in our suffering, even when sorrow and pain keep us bowed down, self-centred, and oppressed.

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