Sermon - 19 Pentecost
In the Name...
A doctor had a plumbing problem at his office. So he called the plumber who arrived, did some mysterious plumber-like things for an hour and fixed the problem. When he handed the doctor a bill for $600, the doctor exclaimed, "What's this? I don't even make $600/hour!" The plumber calmly replied, "Neither did I, when I was a doctor."
This morning, we have heard the words of St. James, "Are any of you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them.." Well, today I'm going to share a story which was sent to me by a friend about a healing experience he had and which taught him both that God can do more than we believers often give him credit and that even though he does, non-believers can still refuse to accept it.
"I was talking on the phone with a friend in Atlanta. A few minutes in, she mentioned that she would be going in for an operation the next Friday. I asked what the problem was. She said that she had suffered a mini-stroke that affected the muscles attached to one eyeball resulting in double-vision. The doctors' remedy was surgery to tighten up the muscles. I asked if she wanted to pray and she said, yes.
I then called a friend of mine in another city and we had this 3-way call while physically separated by thousands of miles. After quick introductions, my other friend and I began to pray up a storm. We bound and loosed, we banged out scripture after scripture, cast out demons and called forth healing.
But, a minute or so after we began to pray, someone tried to call me. I ignored the call, angry at the Enemy apparently trying to distract us from this important mission. I keep hearing the call waiting beeps but, no matter, we pressed on. After about fifteen minutes, we finished. I then called out my sick friend's name. No response. Then, I realized she was no longer on the line and rang her. Here's what she told me had happened.
When the prayer began, she shut her eyes and leaned back in her chair. In doing so, she hit a button on the phone and the connection was lost, so she opened her eyes to call me back. And, when she did, she realized her eyesight was perfect! She excitedly kept trying to call me, but, I didn't pick up. She was the caller I was ignoring.
God has a sense of humour, indeed. My friend was healed the moment we started to pray, but, I can imagine the angels laughing as we raised a holy ruckus for the next fifteen minutes. Needless to say, no operation was required by the puzzled doctors. But, here's the sad part. One of the doctors said that the original diagnosis must have been wrong in the first place.
These things happen, he said. My friend tried to explain that it was not a mistake. It was a miracle. But, the doctor didn’t want to hear it. He believed she was simply a statistical aberration, the one-in-a-thousand testing error and nothing she said could convince him otherwise."
Well, that's quite a story. On the one hand, we can be thankful for the healing God gave that woman, but, we can also be amazed and disappointed that God's involvement could be so easily dismissed. Of course, one reason we might say this can be is because we live in such a scientific and technological world. We put names on diseases and develop drugs and techniques. A thousand years ago it might have made sense to talk about seeing the hand of God at work in Nature, but our vastly increased knowledge about how things are has taken the mystery out of a lot.
But, that can't be all there is to it, because even in Jesus' day, unsophisticated and primitive as it was, where the height of medical knowledge was less than today's basic first-aid, even then we read that people rejected his healing miracles as being from God. A few weeks ago, we saw an example of this when, even though he healed people in Nazareth, Jesus, it says, "was amazed at their unbelief." Amazed that the people of that town could so easily reject the evidence of their own eyes and experience.
So, it isn't about science or technology, or the 1st Century versus the 21st. It's about something else, much deeper and much older.
The truth is that many would rather find a ‘logical’ explanation for the miraculous than question their preconceptions. Engaging with a Truth greater than their sense of reality is too uncomfortable. Jesus faced the same level of scepticism, and we face it, too. St. Paul writes about this phenomenon in 1st Corinthians when he says, "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."
The Cross, and what Jesus did on it, appear as foolishness to those who are dead to anything except this world. The Cross, and its power to heal, opens the eyes of faith. This particular doctor viewed faith as foolishness. He refused to accept the evidence of his eyes the same way that the people of Nazareth did 2,000 years ago. It wasn't because he was a doctor. It was because he was a sceptic.
Frustratingly, all the evidence in the world will be insufficient for those who choose scepticism over faith. Even armed with medical reports demonstrating a ‘before and after,’ many will choose to believe that nothing out of the ordinary takes place.
No amount of proof will satisfy those who choose not to believe, and by engaging in an argument, we simply help them build their wall of defence higher. That's why the best response to scepticism isn’t proof, but, prayer. Changing hearts and expanding faith happens when the Holy Spirit stirs the heart, not when we provide a sufficient number of testimonies. So, if you know someone who has opted for scepticism, pray that their heart would be softened and that the Holy Spirit would speak to the deep places inside of them so that they might learn the foolishness of scepticism and accept the saving power of the cross.
That kind of healing is what is most needed in our world today, just as it was in Jesus' day. Yes, we should rejoice and our hearts should be glad when a cancer remits or sight is restored, but, the healing of a person's faith makes the angels rejoice for that gladdens the heart of God.
As St. James said, "The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective" and "whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner's soul from death." Those are healing prayers we can all join in offering. The prayer of faith will save the sick and the Lord will raise them up.
In the Name...