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Does God Still Heal?
March 5, 1978

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

MARK 6:53-56; JOHN 9:1-7; 1 CORINTHIANS 12:4-11

I remember when I was young and would get ill, I would stay in bed, listen to the radio (that was in the days before TV, if any of you can imagine what the world was like before TV!) On the radio, we had stories that are just as bad as you watch now— Ma Perkins, Helen Trent, Our Gal Sunday. Do you remember all those stories? I used to listen to those. My mother would make me toast and egg—that’s a dry piece of toast with hot milk over it and a poached egg on top, which was delicious. She took care of me. I liked that. Being sick was kind of a pleasant experience, except for the castor oil. My mother believed that if we were sick enough to stay home from school, castor oil would be the test. If we could take castor oil, then we were really sick. If you've never tasted castor oil, don't ask to taste it! 

And then I'd get bored. After you're sick for while you really do miss school and being able to go outside. I'd long for healing. I especially remember one summer when I had poison ivy so bad I could not go swimming that whole summer. I longed to be healed like the people who came to Jesus as recorded in the sixth chapter of Mark. “And everywhere Jesus went to villages, towns or farms, people would take their sick to the market places and beg him to let the sick at least touch the edge of his cloak. And all who touched it were made well.” Notice those emotional words, those plaintive longing words, “Everywhere Jesus went, people would take their sick, they would beg him to at least let them touch his garment.” They longed, they desired to be healed and to have their loved ones healed. 

In John, chapter nine is the story about a man who was born blind. One day Jesus and his disciples were walking along and saw the man. Evidently some of the disciples knew the man or knew about the man, because they knew that he'd been born blind. Looking at the man, they decided to ask Jesus his opinion on illness and diseases. They asked Jesus, “Who sinned? Hs parents or him? Who sinned? Why was he born blind?” In other words, what causes illness? What causes diseases? The very common idea of that day was that people got ill because they had sinned, because they had done something bad, because they were evil. Therefore, they were punished by their illness or their disease. That was a very popular idea. 

As I look back on on my ministry, one of the most common questions asked by people who were sick, by people who had cancer, by people who knew pain was, “What have I done to deserve this? What did I ever think? What did I ever do to bring this on me?” In other words, “Why am I being punished?” To those questions, Jesus responded. As clear as he could say, in the ninth chapter of John, Jesus said, “The man’s blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents’ sins.” There is no correlation. Can we understand and grasp it? Jesus said there's no correlation between one's sins or one's actions or one's behavior and their illness. illness is not a punishment. 

But, a very strong case can be made that many illnesses are the result, are the consequences of the way we take care of our bodies. A very good case can be made that if we do not eat right, if the wrong kinds of chemicals are put into our food, if we don't sleep right, if we don't take care of our body, if we don't let it rest, if we don't love it and tenderly nourish it, it will get sick. Or, if we're nervous and tense, if we hold our body in tension day after day, week after week, year after year, of course, it will break down. Consequences are a factor rather than punishment. Some of the things we do to our bodies is just incomprehensible. 

I read in the “Christian Century” magazine this week about the instant formula, the baby formula crisis in the poorer countries of the world. American industry is so effective at advertising and brainwashing people into feeding their babies out of the bottle with formula, that one doctor in Venezuela said that 10,000 babies die a year in Venezuela because of malnutrition, because of instant formula—10,000 babies a year. At that time, when he made the statement, he was looking at his hospital where there were 52 babies dying. He said, “Look at those babies, a breastfed baby does not get ill like that.” All over the world, mothers are being brainwashed into thinking that there's something wrong with breast milk, and they're buying instant formula. The reason that the babies are dying?  They are too poor to buy all the formula that they need. Or they do not have access to clean water to keep it washed properly and to keep it sanitary. Or they are not able to read all the directions and follow the complicated instructions. 10,000 babies die a year in Venezuela. Breast milk is sterile. Breast milk is inexpensive. Breast milk contains antibodies to protect from many diseases. So babies die from instant formula. There is a consequence. Jesus says disease and illnesses are not punishment, but much of our illnesses occur because of the consequence of the way we take care of our bodies. 

But, there are there are still many illnesses and disease that do not fit into that category, like the man born blind from birth. It’s not understandable. There’s no logical explanation for many illnesses which fall upon us. The disciples asked Jesus, “Why is this man blind? What is the reason?” And Jesus gave this very interesting reply. Jesus said the man is blind so that God's power might be seen at work in him. He is blind so there is a possibility of God's power being demonstrated. When there are needs, when there are illnesses, when there are tragedies, then there is the opportunity for God's power to be displayed and to be used. God's power is available to work in our lives at times of illness and God's power is there either to heal or to give us the strength to cope with what has happened. So Jesus said, rather than dwell on the causes and blame it on one’s sins, rather look at it as an opportunity to experience the power of God to heal. 

How does God heal? God heals through natural processes. Our body wants to heal itself. Medicine and surgery facilitate the process so that healing can take place. God works through doctors, medicines, surgeries, acupuncture, acupressure and other methods. God works through them to facilitate healing. 

But, sometimes God heals by other means, as in the case of this story when Jesus used spit. Did you ever think of using spit when you're sick? Jesus spat on the ground, made a mud ball and put the mud on the man's eyes. Now actually, that wasn't as far fetched as it sounds. It was a very common practice in that day. It was an ancient method of medicine to use spit. The man went and washed away the mud, and he could see! 

In that process Jesus touched him. Throughout history, we've read, and perhaps have seen, healing take place through touching. There's some kind of energy that passes from person to person, some kind of energy that is communicated through touching. Sometimes God uses our hands to facilitate the healing process like the man who rushed into the drugstore and said to the druggist, “Quick, I want something for a severe case of hiccups.” T he pharmacist hauled back and slapped him hard. The man said, “What did you hit me for?” The pharmacist said, “Well, you don't have the hiccups anymore, do you?” The man said, “I never did. It is my wife who has the hiccups!” 

God often uses other people, often uses touching, and often calls people to be healers. In the 12th chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul lists people whom God has called into leadership roles in the church. Paul wrote that all of us are Christ’s body, and each one has a part in it. God calls some people to teach, God calls some people to be apostles, God calls some people to be prophets. And then he says there are those who are given the power to heal. God calls and give some the power to heal. All of us have, to some degree, the capacity to help others feel better and to improve their lives. Some people seem to have that to a greater degree than others. Perhaps by your caring, your concern, your love, your prayers, you are helping people to be healed, and to be made whole. God gives gifts, not because you are more holy than anyone else, not because you are better than anyone else, but because people may be helped, because the body of Christ may be built up and edified. It’s not a matter of your ego. It's not a matter of being good or bad or better than anyone else. It's because the gift is needed. People need you. People need what God has given you. Whatever your power is, whatever your talent is, whatever your ability is, God gave it to you to be used not for your own glory, but to help other people. One of those gifts may be healing. 

God also heals through prayer. There is a tremendous energy, I believe, when people corporately channel their prayers and focus their prayers on a person. There is tremendous energy at work. When we pray at the end of the service, even when you don't know the people, by being in the spirit, by being in prayer, by being open and in communication with God, great things can happen with that energy. I believe God can work through the prayer, the hope and the concern of all of us. The prayers at the end of the service are not just something to end the service with. They are opportunities for us to allow healing to take place as we all together pray. 

One of the most dramatic illustrations is a friend of ours in Chicago, whom we have known for many years. Wanda is her name. Thirty years old, she is a school teacher who had tremendous headaches. Most school teachers do, I suppose, but she had headaches worse than others. She went to doctors and they told her it was nerves. They gave her tranquilizers but the headaches persisted. She said, “I think I have a tumor.” They tested but there was nothing. Months went by with tremendous headaches. She went to another doctor for another reason and also told him about the headaches. He said, “Sounds like a tumor.” He put her in another hospital, ran a series of tests and found a large tumor at the back of her head, at the top of her spine in a very tender and sensitive spot in her body. They had to operate, there was no other recourse. They told her she had only five chances out of 100 of even surviving the surgery and that if she survived the surgery, there would be almost no chance she would be normal because of the tentacles of the tumor, and of the nerves that it was surrounding. 

Wanda sent out a call for prayer. We received a telephone call. Letters went out all over the country to ask for prayer. The day before the surgery, she experienced tremendous pain. She said afterwards, “It was almost like somebody was in there with a knife and scissors cutting away.” When they performed the surgery, they found that the tumor was not connected. All the tentacles were freed from the brain, the spine and the nerves. Wanda said Jesus had gone in there and cut the tentacles away. She was out of the hospital in a few days and was soon back teaching—a miracle. 

I believe God heals through prayer. God heals through people, through our caring for each other. God heals through medicine, through surgery. Does God still heal? Yes, God still heals. But, not all the time, and when a person is not healed, when it doesn't succeed, then comes the guilty question, “What have I done that I'm not healed? Was there something wrong with me?” Or the usual question, “Isn’t my faith strong enough?” There are many occasions when God lets us keep our disease and keep our illness because God's power is to be at work in helping us to accept the pain, accept the cancer, accept the inevitable death. God's power is to be shown in those cases through our patience, through acceptance, through our ability to still love and care. 

God’s healing power comes in many ways to heal the disease or to cope. Does God still heal? Yes! Bring the sick. Beg for healing. At least, touch his garment and God will make us whole.

© 1978 Douglas I. Norris