The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

THE HEALING TOUCH

Delivered 12/31/95
Text: Mark 5:25-34
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

She must have been desperate. Year after year it had gone on. Not only were the hemorrhages dangerous to her health, they made her a social outcast. She was not even welcome in the Temple. UNCLEAN, they said. She had tried everything. Doctors, of course, but all they had affected were her finances. She tried the recommendations of the Talmud which offered no fewer than eleven remedies - some of them were tonics and astringents, some just superstition like carrying the ashes of an ostrich egg in a linen rag in summer and a cotton rag in winter. (1) Nothing.

Now word had come that this itinerant rabbi of whom everyone had been speaking lately was nearby. With fear and trembling she gathered herself up and went out to see if this Jesus might help. Yes, it was risky. She would likely have to suffer the humiliation of neighbors, especially those non-verbal insults as people move away to avoid even touching someone such as her. It was awful being made to feel DIRTY all the time. Fortunately, as she approached the crowd following Jesus, they were too engrossed in him to notice her.

As she came near, her plan took shape. She knew that her condition would make it impossible to approach the healer directly - no one would allow her to get near. She would simply come up from behind (hoping against hope that she would go unnoticed), and touch one of the four tassels on Jesus' outer robe. Something deep inside told her that if she would just do this...just TOUCH...she would be healed. And she was.

True, she did not get away unobserved as she had planned. Her little adventure was discovered. "Who touched me," Jesus asked. His friends said, "Master, don't be silly - there are a zillion people crowding around here." Jesus stood there in silence and looked around intently at those nearby. As his eyes came toward her, her own eyes looked to the ground. She was terrified. In a moment she fell down at his feet and, sobbing as though her heart would break, she confessed. What would he do? With just a touch, her hemorrhage had been healed. Now, with just a word, would the bleeding start again? No. "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease." Hallelujah! What a wonderful word! HEALED.

Of course, she was not the only one. Over and over the New Testament record tells similar stories - the blind given sight, the lame made to walk, the broken made whole. Nearly one-fifth of the Gospel record is about Jesus' miracles and the discussions they occasioned, and that includes fourteen distinct instances of physical and mental healing. And Jesus was not the only healer - the disciples were involved as well. In fact, when Jesus sent seventy of them out two by two as advance teams to the towns on the planned itinerary, part of their instructions were to "cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you'" (Luke 10:9).

The healings continued long after that first generation of believers was gone from the scene. In fact, in the second century a pagan critic of Christianity by the name of Celsus complained that the church kept going and growing by attracting "the sick, the fools and the sinners." (2) The sick would not have come unless they believed that here they would find a cure.

However, by about the fourth century, the church's ministry of healing began to deteriorate - the joyous expectancy of those who had surrounded Christ during his earthly walk was no longer there; the incredible loving fellowship that had characterized the early church (especially in times of persecution) was just a memory; other methods of healing were being developed by medical science; the conversion of the emperor Constantine insured the acceptance of Christianity and made it "the thing" to call oneself a Christian. In other words, the church was not the same, and neither was its ministry. Too bad.

Jesus clearly believed in physical healing. Most Christians continue to believe in healing (we PRAY for people's health regularly), and Scripture makes clear that healing IS part of our ministry. But to find fourteen modern incidents of legitimate cure such as we encounter in the Gospels would be quite a chore. The ministry of healing has fallen away to almost nothing.

What can we do to return the healing touch to its rightful place in the church? First, there must be a decision to even consider it. Most mainline Christians have little or no understanding of any healing ministry other than what we might occasionally encounter on TV when we land on the wrong channel. What we see there we find at best embarrassing and at worst fraudulent. If healing is to regain its rightful place in the work of the church, we must commit ourselves not to abandon it to the religious fringes, and then we must do some serious and careful study with an eye to getting ourselves back to business.

Start with scripture, of course. Read the accounts of healing to analyze what went on. Instructions? The Epistle of James has them: "Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick [or make the sick whole], and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven" (James 5:14-15). Does the church today approach illness that way? Not often. And the reason is that, when we get sick, our habit is to call the doctor, not the church. A better way would be to call BOTH!

What about healing methods? Doctors and nurses and hospitals and medicine all have their place in a healing ministry. God has graciously given us the advances of medical science to our incredible benefit. But if you ask any doctor or nurse, they will be the first to affirm that medicine has its limits - there is a spiritual dimension to us that contributes to our overall well-being. Jesus knew that, of course, and the gospel record has him using different approaches as each case warranted: he called upon the faith of the person to be healed or, in some cases, the faith of bystanders; he prayed, he commanded, he forgave, he touched. Those same techniques are appropriate for us today.

What should we expect of a healing ministry at the end of the 20th century? Will people hobble down to the chancel on crutches, then fling them away after prayer and anointing and run back up the aisle? Or will healing be more gradual? Both, probably. Our task is simply to join in faith and prayer and love and EXPECT SOMETHING TO HAPPEN. There will be times when, despite all our prayers and anointing, healing does not come in the way we ask - sometimes there has been too much physical damage, and God's most gracious act will be to let life mercifully end. Those decisions are not ours; rather they are rightfully in the hands of a caring and loving God.

There is much to learn about our ministry of healing because the subject has been so neglected for so long. Of course, we can study the subject to death and use our incompleted work as an excuse for inaction (or we might be very Presbyterian and turn it over to a committee). No. If the church is to regain its healing touch, the church has to, as the commercial says, JUST DO IT! Members and friends are encouraged to request healing when they need it. Services of healing will be included on the calendar in the same way we schedule Sunday School or Youth Fellowship or Presbyterian Women or anything else.

Please be aware that scripture does not reserve this healing work to a certain favored few. There is no question that some individuals DO have a particular gift, but the ministry is committed to the CHURCH - it is the CHURCH that is the body of Christ, Christ's arms and legs; it is the church that lays hands on the sick and anoints with oil. Just as in any other area of our work, we are in this together.

The Sequoia trees of California tower as much as 300 feet above the ground. Strangely, these giants have unusually shallow root systems that reach out in all directions to capture the greatest amount of surface moisture. Seldom will you see a redwood standing alone, because high winds would quickly uproot it. That is why they grow in clusters. Their intertwining roots provide support for one another against the storms. When WE gather together, we provide similar support. Pain and suffering and illness come to all of us. But, just like those giant Sequoia trees, we can be supported in those difficult times by the knowledge that we have one another; we are not alone.

In a few minutes, we will intertwine our spiritual, mental and physical roots in a special way. Some among us are here with needs for healing. Our work will be (and make no mistake, it will be work) to join our hearts and minds and wills with each one who comes for anointing. We will come with faith - not the kind of faith that professes adherence to certain dogmas, but the same faith that Jesus called for from patients and family and friends, the same faith found in one very desperate woman so long ago - faith in SOMEBODY to get something done. Our faith will help us to EXPECT SOMETHING TO HAPPEN! I am convinced that spiritual and emotional barriers to divine healing will be broken down when ALL of us are united in faith that anticipates something wonderful.

The spiritual power that Jesus gave to heal is still with us. Now, as we begin a new year, let us resolve to use it in his name and to his glory.

Amen!


1. William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, Daily Study Bible Series, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954), p. 128

2. Leslie Weatherhead, Psychology, Religion and Healing, (New York/Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1951), p. 39

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