To be human is to need healing

Peter Seal, 16 October 2106

2 Timothy 3: 14–4: 5; Luke 18: 1–8

From today’s gospel: ‘Jesus told his disciples a parable: about their need to pray always and never to lose heart’. Jesus uses the story of the nagging widow and the supercilious judge to talk about the nature of prayer. What is it? How does it work? 2,000 years later we are still wrestling with this mystery, especially within a service that includes prayers for healing.

Jesus points out that prayer involves more than those isolated moments when we turn beyond ourselves for help. Prayer is often spontaneous. In times of need, it’s a natural and good, instinctive response.

But Jesus speaks here of the need ‘to pray always and not to lose heart’. What we are being told by the Lord is that prayer is not so much isolated moments as the development of a continuing and consistent relationship with God. If deep in our hearts we want a deeper relationship with God through prayer, there’s no substitute for self-discipline and the setting aside of specific times.

Prayer is often hard work and can feel frustrating. We should be encouraged to know that everyone finds prayer demanding. Even those acknowledged as the great men and women of prayer over the past 20 centuries have struggled at times, and often for prolonged periods of time. To work away at something is a sign of how important it is to us. Jesus says to each of us, ‘don’t lose heart’.

Today’s theme, with specific prayer for healing, is a special opportunity to pray for each other and feel the power that is created when ‘two of three (or more) pray together in the name of Jesus’.

I want to say a few words about healing. For me, there’s an important and helpful distinction to be made between curing and healing. By curing I mean the removal of a particular ailment: for example, a knee that causes excessive pain and restricts someone’s walking becoming pain-free, and the person being able to walk again easily. Modern medicine in its many amazing forms brings about this sort of cure every day, in myriad different ways.

For me, there’s an important and helpful distinction to be made between curing and healing.

Sometimes, though not often, these forms of physical cure are the result of the ministry of the church. We need to keep an open mind about such extra-ordinary curing – and when we hear of it, simply say, ‘Thank you Lord; we praise you Lord’.

Healing, I believe, is a much more far-reaching word. It embraces all that makes you and me a human being: body, mind and spirit. To be human is to need healing. The very nature of what it is to be alive within the body we have – with our capacity for thought, our inbuilt quest for the spiritual, along with our emotions – means that we are, necessarily, as yet incomplete. We are all, therefore, in need of healing in its broadest sense; maybe it’s this need that most unites us and binds us together.

Miracles do sometimes happen. Occasionally they are of the painful-knee variety; much more often they are interior – on the inside. To suddenly feel peaceful about something that has caused deep inner turmoil is a sign of healing – a miracle, if you like, in that it never seemed possible.

Today, in this special service, everyone is invited to receive the laying-on of hands with prayer (but of course no one should feel they must receive it). What will happen is that Michael Joseph, Mary Copping, James Clay, Alexa Heady, Sue Walker and I will each first receive, for ourselves, the laying-on of hands. We will form three pairs and you are then invited to come to the altar rails at each side or the cushions in the centre, and to kneel or stand, whichever is more comfortable.

In offering this ministry we are all, so to speak, in the same boat – all in need; all ready to receive. Those doing the laying-on of hands are seeking to be human channels of God’s divine grace, which brings forgiveness, peace and inner healing.

Any one of us can receive: for ourselves, for another person or for several others. God knows who is on our hearts. It seems to me that, in some way, today’s ministry can also be given and received for the world. The massive challenges facing our country are signs of dis-ease, of an underlying need for the healing of structures and relationships. In our world, where the people of Syria, especially in Aleppo, are suffering so appallingly and our international leaders seem impotent to find a peaceful way ahead, we can go down on our knees to receive Christ’s healing touch. Healing for ourselves, for loved ones, for the structure of the economy, for those living with indescribable fear.

The whole of the New Testament is shot through with a sign: the sign of the cross. The way God works in us; the way in which he, patiently, day by day, brings about his good purposes, is through ‘suffering love’. We see this in embodied form on the cross – in the human body of the man Jesus. His body was broken and laid waste to.

Before he died, the penitent thief hanging beside Jesus made a request: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’; and Jesus gave a positive reply. Remember or re-member? ‘Remember’ can mean either ‘don’t forget’ or it can mean ‘put together again’. Re-member me. Today is about you, me, loved ones, the world, the poorest of the poor, all who are broken – being re-membered, put together again.