This sermon was presented at Resurrection on August 16, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, by Pastor Jim Kniseley. Today is a Healing Service and worshippers are invited to receive Holy Communion and also an anointing with oil and the laying-on of hands for healing.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today in the life of our congregation, we have a Service of Healing. Most of us know something about why we offer this opportunity, and many have actually come forward to experience this gift of God. Let’s focus on why this is a very important and vital part of our ministry here at Resurrection.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a most faithful Lutheran pastor and theologian, wrote: “Love toward sick members should have a special place in the Christian congregation. Christ comes near to us in the sick.” (1)
What does he mean? Here are four ideas that come to mind:
1. We are seldom more vulnerable than when we are seriously ill
2. God’s love and power can become real to us when we are seriously ill
3. The Church that is present to provide the means of grace to sick people is responding to the call of Jesus to minister to those in need
4. We need to remember that sickness and healing are not individual concerns, but the responsibility of the whole body of Christ
A really big part of our healing ministry here at Resurrection is our Prayer Ministry. Prayers are very important for our faith as a Christian Community, and some of you have told me, “Pastor, I really felt the prayers of the members praying.”
How do we pray for folks here at Resurrection? You can put a name in the prayer book, located on the credenza in the narthex. We include those folks in worship services. We list names of folks seeking prayer in the weekly bulletins and monthly newsletters. Every Monday morning our secretary e-mails names of folks to be prayed for to our Prayer Partners. These folks (about 15) are diligent in their daily prayers. We also open this Sanctuary for prayers on the first and third Tuesday evenings. Every Wednesday at the noon-time service we gather here at the altar rail for prayers for those present and those we wish to name.
And, we have this Healing Service 4 times per year. There are 3 very important elements of our Healing Service that I want to lift up. The first is Holy Communion. Receiving the sacrament really focuses our attention on Jesus, the Great Physician. We receive a most important part of our healing: we receive forgiveness of our sins.
The second element in our Healing Service is the Oil. In Biblical times, olive oil was considered to be the best medicine of the age. We remember how the Good Samaritan anointed with oil the wounds of the sick man who had been beaten. We also remember how the apostles “anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them (Mark 6:13)”. We also remember the instruction from James 5:14, “Is any among you sick? Let him call the elders of the church, and let us pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord…”
The third element in the Healing Service is this laying-on of hands. The laying-on of hands was practiced by Jesus as he transmitted God’s healing power to those who were sick or disabled. Today, it is a tangible expression of Christ’s operating in and through us as we minister in his name.
What kind of healing do we receive? What should we expect to happen either in a Healing Service or when we prayed for at other times? This is a key question, I believe. What keeps some folks from even coming forward in a Healing Service is the negative association with some television faith healers. We really don’t want that sensationalism to be a part of our worship experience. Here are some truths about healing that I believe:
· We do expect a healing to take place
· Healing is not always what we want or expect
· In every instance, we believe a healing does take place
· There is no such thing as unanswered prayer
That God can take away disease and sickness, I have no doubt. That is one form of healing. That God will give us strength to endure our sickness and an enduring faith, that is another form of healing. That God will provide medical care through doctors and nurses; I believe that is an answer to prayer, and a healing. That God will release us from our suffering through death and entrance into heaven, that too is an answer to prayer and a gift of healing.
Dr. Granger Westberg, the founder of Wholistic Medicine, Inc., in Chicago (2) was lecturing at a gathering of physicians, nurses and pastors in Tucson, Arizona, some years ago. He asked a question: “What is the healthiest hour of the week?” How would you answer the question? Dr. Westberg surprised many people by answering, “The hour of worship on Sunday morning.”
Why is this true? One major medical study shows the major factor in staying healthy is gratitude. Worship at its best offers us the opportunity to express feelings of gratitude through praising God for his acts of grace and mercy.
Dr. Westberg said something in that lecture about a congregation that I hope could be said about our congregation here at Resurrection: He was speaking about Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Tucson, “This vital congregation epitomizes for me a health-giving community of faith. I encourage medical students to look upon community churches as the real health agencies in every town. It is great to be able to point to Our Saviours’ just across the street from the hospital, as a model par excellence.”
This day, please accept your invitation to participate in prayers for healing.
(1) Bonhoeffer quoted by F. Burton Nelson, “What Churches Can Do,” Christianity Today, September 10, 1990, p. 36.
(2) Alone/Together, Ron Lavin, CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 1984