Sunday, February 08, 2009

Sunday 8 February 2009 - Healer of the World

This sermon is based on Mark 1:29-39 and Isaiah 40:21-31



This past July, the BBC ran a special documentary programme celebrating the 60th anniversary of the creation of the NHS. Whilst I expect that there might be people in the congregation this morning who can remember the creation of the NHS (but, of course, only as very small children!) I found the programme fascinating. Particularly as a lover of history and as a foreigner.

I was by no means surprised to learn that the British Medical Association initially opposed the formation of the NHS. But I was surprised to find out that the NHS was actually conceived of and implemented within what seemed like a very short space of time. (18 months?)

One of the stories I found interesting was the account of the number of people who flocked to their local doctor's office on the day the NHS began. If I remember the programme correctly, the number of people with untreated medical conditions who presented themselves at doctors' surgeries far exceeded the NHS's pre-opening estimates.

There were far more people than anyone had previously imagined living with chronic medical conditions that they could not afford to have treated. For example, there were people living with enormous hernias. One of the most heart-breaking accounts was the large estimate of the number of children who had previously died with appendicitis whilst their parents treated their bad tummy aches with castor oil because there was no question of being able to afford to take their child to the doctor.

One of the most heart-warming accounts was that of a receptionist in a doctors' surgery who told stories of patients bringing presents to the surgery for the first few years of the NHS - so amazed and delighted were people to finally have access to health treatment.

Everyone was yearning for healing.

Jesus - Healer of the World

In this morning's Gospel reading, we are being put on notice that Jesus is the healer of the world.

This is is the second miracle story in the Gospel of Mark.

We heard the first story last week - the story of the casting out of the demon in the Synagogue. Last week, you might say we had a healing of the mind. This week, we have a healing of the body. And a little bit further on in the Gospel of Mark, we will have a healing of the spirit when Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic.

But Jesus' ministry is not going to be settling down in Capernaum and setting up shop as a healer and a wise man, even though the presence of the crowds indicates that Jesus could make quite a pleasant living that way.

Jesus takes time out from the demands of the crowd to pray and he comes back convinced that travelling and preaching are also part of his calling and his ministry. His calling is not just the healing of individuals, but also the healing of the world.

And his ministry is going to be an unconventional one.

Ultimately, it will be a scandal, because the healing of the world will come not through the creation of world peace and harmony. Rather the healing of the world will come through a death on a cross.

God the Redeemer

The good news of Jesus Christ that Mark proclaims in his Gospel is the same good news that the Church has proclaimed since the first Easter Sunday. It is the same good news that helped the people of Israel to keep the faith in exile in Babylon: The Good News is that God is our healer and our Redeemer as well as our Creator.

This has been the witness of the people of God down through the ages: that God will save and heal his people and his creation.

Sometimes stories of miraculous healings like that of Simon's mother-in-law can be difficult to hear, particularly for those of us - and I expect we're the majority rather than the minority - who know someone who could do with a miraculous healing right now.

And I don't have any easy answers for us about the problem of pain and suffering or why some people recover from illness and others do not.

What I can do, however, is point us all to this morning's reading from Isaiah and say: 'These people knew what it meant to suffer. They knew what it meant to be homeless, rootless, without inheritance and without hope. They knew what it meant to feel abandoned by God but still they professed their trust in God's faithfulness.'

If Mark's story sounds a bit too much to modern ears like it is asking us to believe in a God who waves a magic wand and makes all pain and suffering go away, then the story of the exile in Isaiah should reassure us that the core of our faith is not based on magic tricks.

The faith professed in Isaiah is not the faith of a people whose God has magically made everything better. Rather it is the faith of a suffering people who nonetheless believe that the Lord will renew their strength until they are no longer weary.

Ultimately, Mark will reveal that the unconventional thing about Jesus' story is that he will not save Israel by healing everyone. He will not save Israel by putting peace in the hearts of humanity nor will he save Israel by making it immortal.

What is unconventional and unexpected about the story of Jesus is that he is going to save the world by dying himself. This is at the heart of the scandal of the cross: that Jesus heals us from sin, death and the power of evil not by obliterating them but by entering into them himself.

Our hope lies in Jesus not because he makes suffering go away, but because he enters into human suffering.


Everyone yearns for healing.

Some of us here may be praying for a kind of healing for ourselves or our loved ones and the answers to our prayers will not be as we hope.

But I believe that God nonetheless offers a kind of healing that is appropriate for each person. And I believe that God has promised that, ultimately, his kingdom will come and that his whole creation will be healed.

My prayer for each of us this morning is that we may be given the eyes to see the healing that God makes available for each of us and our loved ones. And I pray that, like Israel in exile, we will be given the strength to wait with joy and expectation for the coming of God's Kingdom. Amen

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