Hands of God

Sermon from Sunday Sept 18, 2011 –

Melanie Neufeld SMC Community Minister

A few short reflections, with a discussion following in Adult Study

I’ll start with my experience…

I feel pretty strongly about keeping myself healthy. I know that I am responsible for my own health. If I have questions about funny symptoms I may be experiencing – I know I should go to the doctor or naturopath. If I’m experiencing depression – I know I should talk to a friend/see a therapist. In order to balance out the impact of work on my body –  I also need to find regular spaces in my life to be reflective, do exercise and eat healthy. With these actions – I hope that I reflect health in my relationships, through my spirit and presence with people. I’m sure this desire is not unusual and given that it works for the most part – one might question what are the benefits of healing prayer? Why consider healing prayer at all… And in my arrogance – of thinking I have my health – under control – I can imagine there are bigger/overwhelming needs that can leave one feeling very helpless and alone.

At Bethel Mennonite Church – in Winnipeg – in the late 90’s – when I found I could no longer work as a volunteer with Jonathan in youth ministry – because I needed to differentiate myself and find my own area of ministry – I discovered that some wise, mature members of the congregation were involved in healing prayer. They had been trained through a 2 year course on prayer team ministry which was available at the Roman Catholic church in the neighborhood – so I decided to take the course.

In contrast to the sensational healing ministries of TV evangelists – healing prayer was presented in a whole different way. Healing prayer happened in the context of an intimate worship setting with 3 or 4 individuals gathered. A simple table was set with symbols that pointed to the significance of God acting in the world – the symbols of the light of Christ, salt for cleansing, oil for anointing, holy water, and the Bible were incorporated into the experience. These elements were combined with the gifts of the Spirit as contributed by members of the team – gifts of scripture, images, compassionate listening, knowledge, music, prayer and touch all contributed so that one might have an experience of God’s presence – know God intimately and experience God’s love/ a context where healing and transformation might also occur. With the simple beginning of inviting the recipient to tell the team what they needed prayer for – the group proceeded to pray and invite God into the experience, checking in with the recipient throughout the worship time. A series of sessions with the same person helped to deepen the experience of the group process. No miraculous healing took place during the training, but we left understanding that healing does not necessarily happen in ways we may expect – that healing can take on different forms – either physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, or relational healing may occur. The training experience helped to demystify healing, get a deeper understanding of how God acts through the presence of community, and helped me to consider my own faithfulness in the belief that God, the Creator, Giver of life and breath, is a healing and compassionate God…

You may also consider your own experience in relationship to making sense of the healing accounts that take place in the biblical text…

In today’s scriptures we see the attributes of God… from the psalms – A God who forgives, redeems, crowns, satisfies, preserves, protects, creates, who hears, gives breath, is faithful, righteous, will not forsake us and a God who heals all our diseases, opens the eyes of the blind, frees the captives and brings release to those who sit in darkness.

We see the biblical writers describe God in the scripture acting with hands – in a very human way, that describes an intimacy with God…

  1. from the psalms – You reach out your hand, and the power of your right hand saves me. Don’t abandon me, for I am the work of your hand.
  2. From Isaiah – I will take hold of your hand – as God offers protection.

It is clear that God desires for us to be whole, and desires our wellness. That God is doing something new.

We have heard about shalom – God is bringing about shalom – In the communal context of the old and new Testaments – what does shalom mean? ( it holds a combination of peace and healing), wellness, completeness, bodily health, right relationships, prosperity, welfare, security not only for the individual but for the community… a total restoration of the true state of humanity, harmony with God, self, neighbors, environment, and integrity in all dimensions of life. The OT reminds us over and over that God is intimately involved with people, re-ordering creation, and bringing about shalom.

As we heard from Mark… the healing of the withered hand comes after a whole series of healing encounters, after Jesus’ authority over demons is clearly established, we see Jesus combining preaching and teaching with healing – offering a life-giving ministry – healing the sick, restoring sight, freeing the captives. There are various ways that Jesus healed – it is spontaneous or gradual, Jesus used words, touch or asked questions to make the person articulate their need, healing depended not always on the faith of the recipient or the faith of those who may have accompanied the sick person, but sometimes faith was the result of the healing that took place.

This healing ministry created such a stir that the Pharisees saw Jesus as a huge threat and plotted with the Herodians to kill him. Here they challenge him about curing on the Sabbath, Jesus avoids their challenge by saying, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill? Following our healing story – Jesus had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. Jesus removes their diseases – that which prevents people from experiencing shalom and from participating fully in community.

Later in Mark – Jesus invites his disciples to carry out the ministry of healing. The disciples become the hands of God – Mk 16:18 – As Jesus appears to the disciples one last time, he says, “these are the signs that accompany those who believe: by using my name, …they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover”. In James – we read: “Is anyone of you sick, then you should call the elder of the church and they shall come to pray over you and anoint you with oil in the name of Jesus”. We too should understand our shalom-witness to the world…

In a simple way – Morton Kelsey describes healing as the main door through which a knowledge of God reaches human beings…

We too may have experienced healing and transformation through:

  1. compassion extended through a gentle word, a quiet whisper, through music, touch, a hug,  community gathered to comfort, the healing work of nurses/physicians/surgeons, massage therapist, chiropractor, a warm meal, opening of a yoga posture, a deep breath, relief to those experiencing disaster, dance on behalf of, someone offering help, the community working together, offer of forgiveness, shared laughter
  2. These are all used to encourage the body’s healing/health
  3. consider the work of MCC, MDS, micro-loan programs- as shalom-making efforts or the hands of God in the world
  4. On labor day weekend – we were witness to the work of Jen and Derick Brubaker in Peru – a wholistic ministry – where they offer physical, spiritual and relational care – connecting people with the resources they need – thus contributing to the healing of the community.

We can go about tending to our own needs in isolation but we have been called to community – to be witness to what God has done and continues to do (hands of God)

  1. we have been created with an immune system, with ability for self-healing, understand this through science and through experience as we see wounds heal and recover from illness
  2. we have been created to live in community – if the community is healthy it contributes to our own health
  3. we have been created to embody/ witness God acting in the world

As God is bringing about shalom – We too have responded to the call to contribute to the health/shalom of our community – offering basic needs through community ministry. SMC is a healing community – let us continue to move out of isolation and live in fellowship to bring each other up in the context of faith that God is doing a new thing. We are healers to each other as we accompany through brokenness.

As our small group has continued to meet since the winter of this year, we pondered questions and shared prayer practices. We experienced a strong sense of community and God acting through us/ and our practices – we also wanted to offer that same amount of care that we experienced to others in the congregation.

As we have created the context of worship today – we hope to offer prayer and anointing at various stations. Though today we pray for ourselves – we know that our health contributes to a healthy community.

Breathe Practice – preparation

Notice what feels good in your body – breath into that space – notice the fullness in that space

Notice what does not feel so good – use the energy from that good space to help open the space that feels discomfort.

Use the hands of God to rest on your body as you breathe.

Come you who are weary and troubled. Come give your thanks and praise to God. Come lay down your burdens before our God.