We are here tonight to pray for healing. This isn’t a weird thing, nor is it only for the especially religious. It is for all who believe, to pray for God’s healing power to come into the lives of those around us in need.
The gospel passage (Mark 1: 29-45) is from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It may only be the beginning but a lot has already happened.
Jesus has returned from his 40 days in the wilderness.
He’s called the first disciples.
Jesus has met a man with convulsions – recognised at the time as an unclean spirit, perhaps some kind of Tourette’s, or epilepsy, who knows. Jesus heals the man.
Jesus and his friends go to Capernaum, on the shore of Galilee. It’s where Simon and Andrew live. They’ve been in the synagogue where Jesus has been teaching.
Simon – soon to be called Peter, the rock on which the church will one day be built – is married. His mother-in-law is not well. She has a fever. And Jesus heals her.
Then he heals many more who are sick, all who are brought to him.
Jesus and his friends go far and wide – Jesus heals yet more people. He casts out more demons. He meets and heals a leper.
Marks gospel ploughs on. Jesus heals people, everywhere he goes, all he meets who are in need and who ask for healing.
And all the time with him are his disciples.
Those disciples are sent out by Jesus to do what he does – to preach, to teach – to share their faith.
We know what happens – Jesus dies, rises, ascends to heaven.
Just before he goes back to the Father, Jesus commissions the disciples and commands them to go and make disciples of all nations. And off they go, after the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes on them and the church begins.
There are healings, exorcisms, all by the power of God, through the disciples, through the followers of Christ. There are examples upon examples, Acts 3: Peter heals a man lame from birth, Acts 5: people are brought just to walk through Peter’s shadow to be cured, Stephen in Acts 6 and Philip in Acts 8 both work many wonders, and then Paul, who is healed and then himself heals, and still others. The power of God is loose in the world. And people are healed.
The Acts of the Apostles is full of moments when the power of God heals and saves after the prayers of the followers of Christ.
It all feels very safe and comfortable to think about this kind of stuff happening 2,000 years ago. Great Biblical stories. But healing through the power of God has been happening for centuries, and there are attested events ever since the day of Pentecost.
And I am not just talking about long ago.
There are still, today, certainly within living memory, indeed in recent years, miracles of healing. Think of Padre Pio, made a saint in 2002 because of miraculous healing. He only died in 1968. As recently as 5th June 2016 a Swedish nun, Mother Maria Elizabeth Hasselblad was made a saint after an attested miracle of healing, the healing of the brain tumour of a young boy.
There have been many saints who have become saints because of association with healing miracles. But it isn’t their power. It’s the power of God, prayed for, entreated for, pleaded for; God’s power, just it always has been.
But we cannot do anything like that can we? Can we pray for healing? We can, and we do. Sunday by Sunday, day by day, congregations everywhere pray for the healing of those we love, those on parish prayer lists, any who are in need of it. We pray sometimes by name and sometimes more generally.
Our task is to pray, to ask God to heal the sick, the broken, physically, mentally, spiritually.
That what the disciples did. That’s what the saints of old did. It’s what saints of recent years did. That’s what we do.
We never know what God’s plan is, so healing may or may not look anything like what we think we want for someone, or what we think they need. But we can ask for God’s help and healing in the life of anyone at all, those we love and know well, those of whom we know a little and those about whom we know nothing at all.
We do this all the time. Our intercessions, our prayers are powerful and important.
We have no idea what our prayers might achieve. But we should go on praying anyway.
Healing can be many things. Sometimes it is visible, and sometimes it is not. Sometimes it is profound and sometimes it is something small.
I have many times anointed and prayed with people going into hospital for operations who are freed from fear and worry for the time ahead.
I have been privileged to be with people at the very end of life and I can tell you that prayers often make an enormous difference. Even when there’s no hope of physical recovery, prayers bring healing of a different kind, the kind of healing which prepares for the end of someone’s earthly life.
I have seen deeply troubled young people find peace after hands have been laid on them.
I once naively thought that miraculous healing because of prayer was something that only belonged in the Acts of the Apostles until, that is, I met someone for whom there is no doubt that it had happened; a young wife and her unborn baby who were in serious danger of death; doctors who just had no idea of what to do; the anguished prayer of a Dad by a hospital bed, a Dad who had never been an active Christian, turning in his desperation to God, and, to the enormous surprise of the medical team, very quickly all was well, the baby was born and Mum was fine. That tiny child has grown up to be a lovely young woman. There is no doubt in her Dad’s mind that God was there and is there always.
That young woman’s mother recently died unexpectedly at 55, after a sudden heart attack and I was privileged to be asked to officiate at her funeral. In amongst the very real sadness and grief of those present, there was true faith, the love of and trust in the God which had carried the ailing tiny baby and mother away from death’s door all those years ago was there, even after the mother’s unexpected early death a quarter of a century later.
And that, my friends, is what prayer for healing is about. It is about faith.
It is about our faith that God continues to bring his healing touch into the lives of all those in need, just as he always has.