Do you need Healing? Actually I'm more than fine as I am.
Luke 6. 17-26 Disability
Is anyone here this morning disabled?
If not, then the answer to that question, in my experience, ‘is not yet’……accidents, illness and old age mean we all end up being less able than we were, needing more help than we used to and we suddenly find barriers just about everywhere.
Let me now ask ….Does anyone here need healing?
If Jesus walked in, what would you ask him…what might he offer you? And why?
Many people who identify as disabled are increasingly asking questions about the Christian theology of healing.
The links to sin, of not being whole and of needing rescuing in some way are for many uncomfortable or even offensive.
My friend Elizabeth is perhaps one of the few people with Cerebral Palsy to be ordained in the Church of England. Elizabeth is whole and talks of going to heaven just as she is…..made in the image of God….she doesn't want or need healing.
What do you think? What would you want? Why is that?
St Wulfran's is a healing church and offers healing and I want to take some time this morning to reflect on how we understand this ministry as it’s not straightforward.
There is a great podcast on BBC Sounds called ‘Pick Up Your Stretcher and Walk’! It is quite challenging and at times also very moving and I wanted to share some of this with you this morning.
The podcast is written and presented by Damian Rose, he isn’t a Christian and describes himself in the podcast as being blind.
He starts the podcast talking of his experience of being repeatedly offered healing by Christians when he is not certain he wants it or needs it. He wants to know why Christians want to do this as these experiences often leave him judged as being faulty and in need of repair and he wants to know if this is what Christians believe.
What he finds out, through various interviews, is that there are a range of views available.
He starts with an evangelical ministry called Mission 24 and the lead pastor Jonathan Condrath. Jonathan explains the approach …he says healing is part of the Gospel so as we share the Gospel…we offer healing if this is asked for….he says that is the nature of Jesus expressed in his church…doing good, healing people and releasing those in need from bondage.
In the interview they follow Jonathan's street ministry…..which includes a powerful account of healing for a woman in a wheelchair….in prayer he asked in Jesus name for pain to be taken away and for wholeness. Wonderfully the pain is removed and she feels released …her strength comes back. She felt well enough to try and walk again.
Jonathan believes it is a Christian duty to heal the sick…Jesus commands us after all in the New Testament (e.g. Matt 10) to heal the sick.
Damian in response to this explains that he sees things from the opposite perspective that the world needs to change…..not the person. He says we need more sign language, ramps, braille documents. Jonathan in response says that's a world view ….where there is no God.
Sickness and disability came with the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden…. When we were created we were without disability….disability in this way is a sign that the world has been broken. There is an area in someone's physical health that isn’t whole and this can be made right and healed by Christ. The perfect will of God is to be healthy and well.
Damian asks - what are the links between health and sin? Jonathan responds that the answer is that Jesus seems to indicate at times that there is a connection between the evil one and the need for healing but also he makes it clear in other encounters that there is no link. For example in John 9
His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.
Jonathan says we are not saying everyone who is disabled is disabled by personal sin. But we live in a broken and sinful world and this affects us all.
Damian then reflects that being a symbol of a sinful and broken world is a huge burden to carry for people who are disabled.
Damian then ponders … If Jesus was about now, would he offer to heal people on the street like these street evangelists and the scenes described in the bible?
He then interviews Lindall Bywater ….a blind colleague and school friend who is a Christian writer on prayer. She talks about needing to read these healing Gospel accounts in their historical context…In Jesus’ time if you were disabled you were excluded from society…work….marriage…access to the temple….you were effectively an outcast and extremely vulnerable as a result. You were seen as unclean.
So in this context you would expect Jesus to heal and cleanse those with a disability ….even so he was unusual in his approach….remember the story of Bartimaeus in Mark 10 ….. Jesus stops and everybody at that moment would expect Jesus to offer just one thing….healing…..but no, he asks ‘what would you like me to do for you’….the crowd would have been astonished as in their minds there could only have been one thing he would want….Jesus does not presume that it is healing that he most wants or needs in his life. As it happens he does ask for healing but it clear Jesus does not expect healing to be the universal request.
Damian then meets Becky, a Young woman …16 years old …who can’t speak…. She can’t move….and she speaks using a communication device that uses eye gaze technology.
She is in many ways inspirational and has spoken to 6000 people at Greenbelt….she talked about her relationship with God…she says they talk in her mind as she can’t put her hands together and it would take to long to pray out loud using the communication device….but that doesn’t stop her praying.
She says that God speaks to her…and says that she is loved a lot and that she is made in his image and that her disability doesn’t make her any less than an able bodied person. He loves us all the same. When she was younger she worried that God didn’t love her as much as she was in a wheelchair….and can’t do what others do…also there was not one wheelchair in the bible…and all the disabled people get healed.
She says it took time to hear God and she spoke with her mother who showed her a passage in the bible, Daniel Chapter 7 verse 9 …where God's throne has wheels and sounds just like a wheelchair….she says excitedly, it's the best chair in the bible …and it’s a wheelchair.
What a thought….what do you think?
On first hearing this we might think this is sounding a bit disrespectful or a teenager flight of fancy but some bible scholars think Becky is onto something.
Candida Moss, professor of Theology at Birmingham, is developing a new theology of disability. In the interview she talks about the start of Ezekiel where we have this description of God on his throne with wheels of fire and gold.
She says it’s not that he can’t get out of the throne, it's just that it shows us that being made in the likeness of God is wider than we think.
Finally he speaks with the Rev Zoe Hemming who is living out this theology of disability…she leads services from her wheelchair or stool….it’s just too painful for her to stand.
She leads healing services for mind, body and soul and her own experience guides her in not presuming what kind of healing people need.
Her experience of disability is that she needed to learn a new dignity and this came from her faith.
There was a key moment in this journey…she was in excruciating pain and asked for two fellow Christian’s to help her and to pray for healing….what she got wasn’t what she expected….she was doubled over with pain…but it was as though her head was being lifted and she saw the cross….and she prayed out loud - ‘thank you for lifting my head…don’t let me bow it again’.
….though the pain didn’t end that day she felt psychologically lifted up….she knew she was fine as she was…she was good enough - she got confidence that she had never had before.
She said it was a completely supernatural healing moment that has given her a new dignity. A new life.
She says we are known and loved by God just as we are.
After all Jesus’s resurected body bore the wounds of his crucifixion - and that has to mean something.
I feel challenged and expanded by all these thoughts and experiences.
The glimpses of a new understanding of God and of ourselves and I say Amen.