As we prepare for the licensing of the Healing Team by +Mark on 1st December Rev Julia asked Norma & Barbara to preach on their experience of healing. Here is the first of these sermons, preached by Norma Higgott on 17th November.
When Julia asked me to preach this Sunday on my healing ministry at the Highland Hospice, I said I was very happy to do so, until I saw today readings! But actually they do fit in quite well with what I want to say, so here goes.
You may have noticed that, during these last weeks of November, our Lectionary Scripture readings focus a lot on endings – the end of the world as we know it, the consummation of all creation, the end of time, the 2nd coming of the Lord. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. He envisions the end of the ritual sacrifice which happened there, the tumbling down of the one thing that the Jewish people could be certain of. If the temple were ever destroyed, it would feel like the end of the world for God’s chosen people. And not only that….according to Jesus, peaceful societies will crumble into violence, and comfortable cultures will unravel into famine. Family ties will come undone, relatives will hand over family members to the authorities, and people will be thrown into prison simply for being believers. Your peaceful world, Jesus says, is coming to an end. Sobering stuff! It can make us all nervous when the Lord starts talking about the crumbling down of everything you thought you could trust! Jesus doesn’t hold back. He tells the truth, in vivid language. The problem is that, in every century, someone has read this vivid Gospel language. Then they look at the world as they experience it and they stand up and say, “The end is happening now! This end that Jesus predicts is happening right now… or, at least, next week.” In the past couple of years, haven’t we heard lots of folk who keep warning us that the end of civilization is just around the corner? Some tell us that global warming is going to destroy us. Some tell us that people of a different faith will destroy us. Others predict that sinners, or strangers, or scandals will destroy us. But we can have a serious problem with a passage such as this. And here’s the problem: Jesus’ description of the end of the world (and what will lead up to it) can be applied to every century of every era, if we apply just enough pressure and creativity to the Gospel text. After all, Jesus says that, just before the end, we will see wars, famines, earthquakes, and people of faith betrayed and persecuted. Well, those things have happened in every century since Jesus rose from the dead. And they are still happening. Sadly, I suspect they will continue to happen. So, if we hear a text like that and we focus on a question such as: ‘when will the end come? When will it all come crumbling down?’ we may be missing the main point. I’m not sure that Jesus described the end of the world so that you and I can stockpile food, move into a bunker and live in fear. When the Lord spoke these words, he knew what he was trying to convey. Inspired by the Spirit, we need to listen as best we can. And I am sure that a vivid Gospel passage like this one speaks to us of many truths, on many levels. Today, let me focus on just one: I think that Jesus describes the end of the world in vivid language because, in every century, ordinary people have moments when they feel like their world is falling apart. And he wants to remind us that, through the mystery of his dying and rising, we will see a new beginning coming out of every painful ending. We can trust that painful endings can lead to a new and more abundant life. In the past 12 months, I’ll bet that everyone listening to this sermon has experienced some kind of painful ending. Some of your dreams have crumbled. Part of the world that you have built may feel like it’s fallen apart. Some of your hopes get dashed. Something – or someone – you thought you could always count on, could always trust, has been taken away, has crumbled, leaving you breathless. Jesus reminds us that the Christian approach to these painful endings is trust – trust that God can create something new out of the most desolate place. Your spouse dies. Your child gets sick. Your marriage ends. Your job disappears. You fail the test. You struggle with addiction. You get into legal trouble. Someone told you that you don’t have what it takes…. It feels like the temple in Jerusalem – your touchstone with God is falling to the ground. It feels like your world is crumbling around you. Then God says: Every cross leads to Easter. Every passion leads to resurrection. Jesus died…then he rose. And you will too. That’s the centre of our faith- not a building, but a belief that our relationship with the Risen One leads us from death to new life. Believe it. Live it. Cling to it. Share it and show it to your friends, neighbours and even your enemies through your words and deeds. Jesus once was dead…but look at him now! And that is what our healing ministry is all about – it is about encountering everyone we meet where they are, with all their needs, all their worries, all their fears and showing them the love and compassion of Christ through our words and actions. We can’t just address the symptoms we see, we need to try and find the cause of what is bringing them pain. True healing addresses the cause of their worry and fear. Jesus tells us that it is not only in church that we can address the needs of the world, in fact he tells us us to go out into the world in peace to love and serve the Lord, he doesn’t say stay here to love and serve the Lord, he says go out there and practice what we preach, bring my healing to the world and everyone you meet.
How? By establishing a relationship with people. And the only way to begin to establish relationships with the lost is to get to know them. That goes beyond finding out their names, it’s learning about their lives. It’s caring about the things they care about. Get involved with their lives because that translates into “I care about your life.” I care about your state of being and I don’t care whether you go to church or not. And that is what my ministry as the Chaplain at the Highland Hospice is all about. It is about meeting the folk who come there, whether as inpatients or as day patients, where they are in their life’s journey. It’s about sharing that journey with them and with their families, encouraging them all to talk about how they are feeling about their journey, about their illness, about death. It’s about being prepared to share the love of God with them and about being ready to listen to all the really difficult questions they might have about God, faith, suffering, dying – about why! My ministry is about listening to what they have to say, it’s about offering a loving compassionate touch to hearts that are sorely troubled, it’s about being, being alongside them and their families through all the difficult times, being there when they just need a hand to hold, being there to pray with them and for them – it is incredibly comforting to be told – I’m praying for you – even if you don’t have a strong faith or even no faith. Just about a year ago I encountered a young man, in his early fifties, who was one of the loveliest most caring folk you could meet and who was deeply in love with his beautiful wife. We talked a lot and got on so well that he once said to me Norma I would love for you to take my funeral but I really don’t believe there is anything else beyond this world so I won’t ask you to do it because I know you wouldn’t be able to not commend me to God. I told him I fully understood and that I would come to his funeral anyway – and he said thank you – and I know you’ll pray for me and that’s ok – it’s very comforting actually to know someone who believes and who is prepared to pray for me even when I can’t. Never doubt the power of prayer to bring comfort and healing. I spend a lot of time with the families too and often for them being able to talk about death and the dying of their loved one is a relief from some of the pain and torment they’ve been holding in – always trying to put a brave face on things for their loved one. They too need a place to share their burdens and they can be many, so being the face of God who is willing to share all our cares and offering them that support is really special – they come to understand some of the love and compassion that God offers through our actions. My job also involves offering that same love and compassion to the staff and volunteers at the Hospice who deal with the end of so many lives and who walk alongside the families – they too need someone to listen and understand their feelings.
What I like about Jesus is that he never imposed his behaviour patterns on his disciples. He modelled the word for them in the way he led his life. He prayed, so that they might learn to pray. He lifted them to a higher standard through the way he led his life. He modelled the behaviour he wanted to see in them. And that’s the strange thing about how we react to people that we must overcome. We want others to act in way we ourselves cannot. We want them to speak gentle words, and to be humbled and kind; yet we do not show those qualities. We want them to be forgiving and understanding and patient, yet we are not. And the challenge is to become that which you desire others to be. “I want him to be more loving-then you become more loving.” I want her to be more supportive. Well, then you become more supportive. I want them to listen to me- well you begin to listen to them. You lift others up by lifting before them the Christ that’s within you. As you become more Christ-like in your words, your attitudes they will begin to see through you the way to Christ.
So let us lift up Christ by reaching others with a healing touch. Let us reach others with the healing hands he has given us. These hands are anointed hands. These hands will break down walls. These hands will open up doors. These hands will set the captives free. These hands will clothe the naked. These hands will heal the sick. These hands will raise the dead. These hands will cast out demons. These hands will give God the glory. There is power in our hands. Let’s use them for the glory of God. Amen.