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Is Christian Healing Real?  Thoughts Through the Ages, Part 1

When Jesus turned thirty his life changed radically.  Leaving his family, work and neighbors he went  down to the Jordan River to seek baptism from his cousin John.  God was thrilled and tore open the heaven to honor Jesus and to send the Holy Spirit upon him.  But then the Spirit led him into wilderness TO BE tested by Satan, really tempted, for 40 days.
Completing his choice to do His Father’s will, Jesus began his ministry.  Signs and wonders including healings of all types filled day after day of that ministry. Through those unforgettable experiences of God’s love and power, people came to BELIEVE…  Jesus was not just a great teacher, but the very Son of the Living God!   People saw the power of God with their own eyes… through healings, and put their faith in Jesus for all eternity. 
After Jesus died, rose, and ascended to heaven, HIS earthly ministry was done.  The future of God’s Word was placed in OUR hands, the church’s hands, to be directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  A lot of things changed.  Some did not.
Did Christian healing continue after Jesus died?  During the Protestant Reformation John Calvin, one of the founders of our denomination, declared that healing and miracles STOPPED when Jesus died.  For nearly four hundred years mainline protestant churches stood convinced that Christian healing was dead. When you believe something is impossible, it often is. We would not see healing even when it happened before our eyes.
This was not new!  When Jesus himself went to his hometown, the people did not believe that God could heal through HIM.  So there was NO FAITH to make healing possible! 
This was not the only time that people have doubted God’s power to heal.  Are you fully confident in you heart of hearts that JESUS HEALS?  Does part of you believe… and part of your doubt?  Some days I experience doubts! 
Let’s go back and look at what the church has believed about healing through the ages. Even during Jesus’ lifetime and ministry he was NOT the only one through whom healing flowed.  Jesus sent out followers two-by two to go all around the countryside healing people (Mk.6:7 //). LOTS of people were healed!  Jesus showed us that healing was not just His ministry.  He urged his followers to take the healing power of God to hurting people EVERWHERE!
After Jesus’ death we read about continuing healings.  In Acts 3 Peter and John went into the temple where a paralyzed man begged for money.  Remember what happened?  Peter turned to the man and said, (Do you remember the words?) “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give you.  In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, WALK!”  The man stood up and began walking and jumping all around the temple courts!  REAL healing happened after Jesus left us!
Throughout the New Testament we read the stories of people receiving physical, and spiritual healings. (cf. Acts 5:15 Peter’s shadow heals;  Acts 9:17 Ananias heals Saul; Acts 9:32-35 Peter heals Aeneas; Acts 9:36-42 Peter raises Dorcas; Acts14:8-10 Paul heals a crippled person;  Acts 19:11-12 Paul’s clothes heal the sick; Acts 20:7-12 Paul raises Eutychus)
The Letter of James which was carried to different churches charged them to “pray over [the sick] and anoint [them] with oil in the name of the Lord. …the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise [them] up. If [a person] has sinned, [they] will be forgiven!”  Healing was a living witness to the power of the Risen Christ.  Florida State University professor Amanda Porterfield in her new book, Healing in the History of Christianity, insists that care for the sick was pivotal to the church’s identity, survival, and dramatic growth!
Deep faith in the power of Jesus Christ to heal continued throughout the early centuries!  But what happened after Constantine made Christianity the state religion? How did healing fare during the so called Dark Ages?  What mixed attitudes and convictions still influence our faith and doubt today?  Tune in Next Sunday!  

 

Is Christian Healing Real?  Thoughts Through the Ages, Part 2

  Last week we began to explore the Question: Is Christian Healing real?  We looked at the huge role healing played in Jesus’ ministry, and the growth of the early church for 300 years. Seeing and experiencing the power of God convinced people to believe in Jesus.
But then healing began to falter. When Constantine welcomed Christianity as the religion of thee Roman Empire around the  year 300,  thousands of people rushed into the church to gain favor with the Emperor.  The increased numbers may have been exciting, but many had little understanding or personal faith in Jesus. 
Furthermore, the Roman Empire began to decline.  People were watching their culture crumble before their eyes.  Entire cities, their economy, their armies and governments simply disappeared before the invading armies of the “barbarians.”  In 476 the entire empire collapsed. As people’s lives fall apart they felt totally helpless to find any hope in life.  So they turned their hopes to the life to come.  Religion, the only remnant of their old world, shifted from helping them find health to making preparations for eternity.  Suffering, instead of being a tragedy God wants healed, as now viewed as an important way of sharing in the crucifixion of Christ.  Healing came to be viewed with suspicion.
The way people thought changed in other ways as well.  In 1054 when the Christian church split east and west, the Greek ideas of Plato to learn through experience were thrown out by western Christianity.  Aristotle’s focus on strict logic and rational thought convinced people that faith had nothing to do with experience.  It was all about thinking.  The Holy Spirit, its power, inspiration and gifts, was virtually ignored.
Healing and miracles played a part in the medieval church, but a strange one. Only exceptional people ministered healing, and that became a basis for their claims to sainthood!   Wild stories grew about saints’ miracles became so exaggerated that no one had any confidence that healing was real, particularly for ordinary Christians!
Furthermore, the sacrament of anointing also changed from being a vehicle of healing to a preparation for death. Remember in the Bible how James to people to go to their elders for anointing so they would be healed?  By the medieval times anointing focused on undoing sin.  People became sick, it was thought, because they had failed God and they were being punished!  Doctors were even forbidden to minister healing until people went to confession!  By 1551 healing ceased to be a rite in the Western church.
Another dynamic contributed to the rejection of Christian Healing.  During the middle ages hardly anyone could read, including parish clergy.  Unable to read the Bible people lost track of the importance of healing in the life of Jesus.  What is more, the grim nature of existence with continual wars and rampant plagues left people feeling totally despairing.  Some monasteries started to explore medical healing but the church stopped them dead.  The church was there to confront people’s sin and not to heal.
During later years, the growing rationalism and materialism in our world shut out everything spiritual.  Leaders of the Roman church and Protestant reformers BOTH rejected the gift of healing that Jesus instituted and called us to continue. 
As recently as 35 years ago (some 1,700 years after healing began to fade from the Christians church) we were just beginning to consider reclaiming spiritual reality as REAL.  People were just beginning to see the body and spirit as inextricably one.  We were just beginning to rediscover the power and importance of HEALING PRAYER in Jesus’ life and OUR lives!
Do you remember days when we worried about whether healing came from doctors or God?  Assuming that there would be any doctors without God?  Remember wondering, does my illness come from my body or my mind – like one can exist or function without the other?  Remember asking, should I seek prayer or take medicine?  That seems like asking should I eat or breathe!  Yes!
One of the great turning points in the rediscovery of Christian healing came in 1906 when the Pentecostal movement began in a revival on Azuza Street in Los Angeles.  People began to pray WITH FAITH that others would be healed – and God answered!  Later in the 1950’s a few amazing people started the ball rolling: Katheryn Kuhlman, Francis MacNutt, Agnes Sanford, and Oral Roberts, who only recently completed his earthly life.
I remember as a child sitting beside my mother in a wheel chair watching Oral Roberts on the TV.  Did you ever see him?  I hoped with all my heart that God would heal people because my mom was falling apart before my eyes with Multiple Sclerosis.  We watched TV and hoped. 
Twenty-five years later in my first year of ministry I received an invitation to a 10 day conference entitled “Learning the Art of Healing” at a Presbyterian (NOT PENTECOSTAL) retreat center. I felt fearful about this wild idea and I felt hopeful there might be something to it! At that retreat, I invited my Holy Spirit into my life, and I learned to experience God and pray with others in MANY new and powerful ways. 
Back home I also began to work with two other people in our Vermont Conference to reclaim healing as a ministry of our UCC,. In 1978 our Vermont resolution to turn back from 1700 years without healing to pray again with faith for our bodies, our minds and our souls… was accepted by the entire United Church of Christ!
So here we are today.  32 years later, still wrestling with the question.  Is Christian Healing Real?  You are invited to take a step in faith today toward the living power of Jesus.  You may have doubts.  I still face them.  But Jesus is here, waiting to pour his love and power in to everyone who comes to him. So come to him today and let him work… in you, in your family, in the friends, soaking his love and wisdom and power into your mind and body and soul… through prayer.
Come, even if you don’t have it all figured out.  Come even if you feel unworthy.  In one way, only God knows what will happen, but in another way you can be certain…  when you come forward for prayer the powerful love of Jesus Christ will flow into you, and into anyone you bring to prayer.
A word for others of us while you sit in your pews: YOUR faith and prayer is just as important as that of anyone in this room.  Please, don’t just sit.  As you see people coming forward, please send out your prayer FOR THEM even though you do not know the details of their needs.  Send your God and let God’s love pour into your heart and out to them.  Your prayer, says the Bible, Will has power!
Last Sunday we heard Jesus speak to us and we heard those words again today.  “You did not choose me; but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit…” (Jn. 15:16).  Love is the fruit God longs to see in your life, love flowing through YOUR prayer today.  Will you pray? 


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