Sermon for Proper 23 – RCL Year C Option 2
Scripture Passages – Psalm 111 | OT: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c | NT: 2 Timothy 2:8-15 | Gospel: Luke 17:11-19
Many of you know that a little under two years ago, while pregnant with our youngest daughter Gwyneth, my wife Amber was diagnosed with a massive blood clot. It was a very high risk situation for her and the baby. I prayed in faith for a complete and total healing, but it didn’t happen. Now, Amber has had a promising if slow recovery, but to our knowledge the clot has not dissipated completely. I wonder why she wasn’t healed instantly. I wonder why it seems like her healing may not be complete this side of heaven.
About five years ago I was very wounded inside as result of the emotional trauma of leaving my church home from birth, the Baptist church, to follow the Lord’s leading into the apostolic and sacramental ministry of the Anglican Communion. At a joint Communion service between Anglicans and Baptists, I was healed of wounds I didn’t even know I had. I wonder why I was healed in that moment, even though I didn’t ask for it and didn’t even know I needed it. I know my life hasn’t been the same since.
If divine, supernatural physical and inner healing is for today, and if we intend to be faithful to the example of Christ, who healed all that came to him and asked, then we have to confront these questions head on. Why does God heal? Why does he sometimes choose not to heal? Of course, we can’t say all there is to say on these things in a 20 minute sermon, but I do think we can draw some key observations from the texts we received today.
Healing is free. In the context of our 2 Kings chapter 5 passage, Naaman tried to pay Elisha, but Elisha would have none of it. The ten lepers simply cried out to Jesus and were healed. God never requires you to pay for healing. It is free of charge. So if it’s ever implied that you need to give some kind of money to the person praying for your healing, that should be an instant red flag.
The correct response is gratitude. Although Naaman didn’t have to pay for his healing, he was right to be thankful! When the one Leper came back to say thank you to Jesus, the Lord said,
“Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18 ESV)
Healing sometimes involves a specific act of obedience. Naaman had to wash seven times in the Jordan. The lepers were to go to the Temple and present themselves to the priest, and as they went in obedience they were healed.
Healing doesn’t always look the same. For Namaan, his healing was instant. For lepers, it came quickly but still occurred as they went, which implies a process. Elisha didn’t even come out to see Naaman before telling him how to be healed by the power of God. Jesus in this case responded to their pleas of mercy personally. In other cases Jesus laid hands on people or spit their eyes or mud on their face. The circumstances around healing can take many different forms.
Healing is connected to faith. Remember what we talked about last week? It’s not about how much faith you have so much as who your faith is in. Namaan wouldn’t have gotten healed if he hadn’t heard and believed God could do it. When Jesus commends the one thankful leper, he says “your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:19b ESV).
So what conclusion can we draw from these five observations? To recap:
- Healing is always free
- The correct response is gratitude
- Healing sometimes involves a specific act of obedience
- Healing doesn’t always look the same
- Healing is connected to faith
The primary conclusion I come to from this is that God heals to reveal himself and to display his glory. Remember by “glory” we mean God’s goodness, his justice, his love—all the attributes we think of when we think of his greatness and beauty.
We had five observations. Here are five things God is revealing about himself and his glory:
- His heart is to restore us, his children, inside and out freely as an act of grace and mercy and love. His perfect will is to see his people whole and healthy. This is so evident in the ministry of Jesus on earth. The restoration we see in healing is a foretaste of the great resurrection.
- He desires right relationship with us. Naaman ends up becoming a worshipper of the one true God. Jesus celebrates the healed leper that comes back to worship him, and laments those that were healed, but missed out on the fullness of communion with Christ.
- God desires for us to trust him in the healing process. When we obey his direction, he always takes the opportunity himself to be trustworthy.
- God is the one who heals in miraculous ways. This is not something we can accomplish in our own power according to a strict formula. I think that perhaps one of the reasons the healing process looks different from person to person is to remind us that it is God who is doing this, not us. God heals in creative ways because healing is quite literally a creative miracle, and he is a creative God.
- God is able to heal. He is assuring us of his ability to fulfill his promises.
If God heals to reveal himself, then why does he sometimes choose not to heal? I think for exactly the same reason he sometimes chooses to heal. Sometimes, God chooses to use the miraculous, sometimes God chooses to use the ordinary, and sometimes God chooses to use the imperfect circumstances of our world to make himself known. This isn’t easy to say or hear, but sometimes, our suffering serves to bring us or others or both closer to God.
The God that miraculously intervened in history to become one of us through a virgin birth is the same God that used the horrible physical suffering of his own son on the cross for the sake of the world!
You know, we’re promised that when we suffer, in some way our suffering is linked to the redemptive suffering of Christ. Paul reminds Timothy in his second letter
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (2 Tim 2:8-10 ESV)
As Christians we always suffer for Christ, and we endure so that others can see God working in us.
There three primary ways to see healing today.
The first is Dispensationalism which would say that healing is not for the current age, but just for Jesus and the Apostles to establish the church. I think this doesn’t do justice to the texts of the New Testament or the witness of the Church to miraculous healings throughout the ages.
The Second is Triumphalism, which sees divine healing in this life as sort of birthright or guarantee for every Christian. Some that hold to this view would say the only reason you don’t experience complete and total physical health is your lack of faith. This is problematic because we have many biblical examples of people of great faith, like Paul, that got sick and stayed sick for some time.Think about Job who was completely innocent, and yet was allowed to be severely tested through physical ailments.
Instead of Dispensationalism or Triumphalism, I’d like suggest that we see healing today as part of an inaugurated eschatology. That simply means that Kingdom of God has been made manifest in the perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus, and continues to be made manifest in the life of church. Yet…it has not arrived in its fullness.(New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology p 433).
We know that at the end of time we will have new, perfect Resurrection bodies, and sickness and death will be no more. Given that we have the same power that raised Jesus from the grave, namely, God the Holy Spirit, indwelling us, we can expect to see all kinds of healing and even the raising of dead some of the time…but not every time, because we are still waiting for this inaugurated Kingdom to be consummated in the second coming. Divine healing happens all the time as a merciful act from God that reminds us that the world has been irrevocably changed because of Jesus. In healing and in suffering, we experience and witness to the Lordship of Christ and work of the Spirit in and among us.
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I was processing today’s Scriptures with my dad on the phone on Friday, and he made a remark that stuck with me. He said, “I think the reason the church doesn’t live out its healing ministry today is because we lack a sufficient theology for when God doesn’t heal.” I think he was right! The sad thing is that we are sometimes so afraid of what will happen if God doesn’t answer our prayers for healing in the affirmative that we miss out on the opportunities to see God act with power and compassion in both the healing that he brings and the suffering he allows.
Imagine what it would be like if we started living into our God-given healing ministry as a church. Now, we certainly pray for the sick, but speaking for myself I am not often bold in my prayers. Too often my own desire simply to escape the suffering, and my thoughts are centered around resigning myself to the current reality. Maybe you’re like that too sometimes.
But what if we made a subtle shift in how we think about it? What if our framework was more about more about desiring and expecting and praying for God’s perfect will to be done regardless of the timeline? What if we were fully confident in the power and love and wisdom of God? What if we were convinced that the Lord is revealing himself in every circumstance and his kingdom will be made manifest regardless of whether a miraculous healing or a quote “natural” healing, or nothing happens immediately?
In other words, what if we pursued God knowing that he is going to unfailingly give us himself, boldly asking for what we know is his perfect will, and yet joyfully enduring whatever circumstances he walks us through until that perfect will is accomplished?
Would that change how we pray for others? How we endure illness? How we approach God?
This morning, come to the Lord in faith, accepting his grace, with thanksgiving and an obedient heart, receive healing from God. Listen: God always has spiritual healing in store for you, so that’s something you can receive right here, right now, guaranteed when you confess your sins, repent, and receive Jesus.
God may have physical healing in store you today. That is certainly his perfect and ultimate plan.
God may have emotional healing in store today. That is his unquestionably his heart for you, his beloved child.
It may be that for reasons we don’t understand your healing is delayed, despite your trust, your heart of gratitude, and your obedience…but take heart, you are presenting yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth, staying faithful to Gospel, so your suffering is not in vain.
Please know, this is the beginning of the conversation our church is having about healing, not the end. We’re going to continue to press into this together. If you have more questions now than when we started, that’s okay. God can handle our questions, our uncertainty, our doubt. I will look forward to continued conversations with you privately and in more settings like this.
Remember what Paul wrote to Timothy: If we endure, we will also reign. Believe that today, because he remains faithful–for he cannot deny himself. God will act in accordance with his character as he as revealed himself in Jesus Christ…as an all-powerful, all-wise, all-giving, all-healing and all-loving person that loves you. Amen.