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And They Were Healed
August 12, 1979

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

MARK 6:13; JAMES 5:13-16

When Jesus sent out his disciples, he instructed them to heal the sick and proclaim, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” It's amazing to me when I read the Gospels and the book of Acts—the stories of Jesus and the disciples and the early church—how many times healing is part of their ministry. In fact, healing is a very integral part of that early ministry, which seems to have been missing in the church through the centuries. Churches have always been concerned about the sick, the ill. Churches for centuries have built hospitals and have trained medical people around the world. But, healing ministry as a part of worship has been missing and to include a ministry of healing as an integral part of the church has been missing. 

Our Council on Ministries here at St. Paul's for several years has been talking about the Ministry of Healing. We finally feel that perhaps now is the time. Beginning next Sunday for one Sunday a month, following the worship service, we will have a special healing service in the chancel to which all of you are invited. This service will include the ancient ceremonies, the ancient rites of laying on of hands and anointing with oil. We pray at hospitals, we pray for people in our worship service. So this service is to supplement and incorporate some of these ancient ceremonies that have been lost to the mainline church for many centuries. 

The laying on of hands is a very ancient ceremony that goes way back into the Old Testament. The hand was seen as the extension of the person. It was believed that through the hand, one shared his spirit with another; that through the hand, the spirit of the person was conveyed to another and energy was communicated. Authority was communicated through the hand when a teacher would grant authority to the disciples that they now had graduated, and were now ready to take on the work. Authority was communicated through the laying on of hands. Moses conferred his authority upon Joshua to take his place by the laying on of hands. It was believed that authority, energy, and spirit were conveyed from one to the other, and that this act was even a vehicle of the Spirit of God. When Moses laid his hands upon Joshua, Joshua was also full of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit—God’s presence—was somehow conveyed and communicated through this act. 

Anointing with oil is also a very ancient ceremony extending way back into the Old Testament. It was also an act, a sacrament by which the presence of God was communicated. In 1 Samuel 16:13, we read that Samuel took olive oil, anointed David and immediately the Spirit of the Lord took control of David. Oil was also medicinal. It was smeared on a wound like we do with Merthiolate or Peterson’s Ointment. When oil began not to be used as medicine, this act became symbolic of the very presence of God. The disciples laid on hands and the disciples anointed with oil. In Mark 6:13, we read, “They anointed oil on many people and they were healed.”

Jesus laid his hands on people. Jesus used clay and spit. Peter and Paul in the book of Acts healed many by the laying on of hands and by the anointing of oil. In the Bible, there is no separation of the body, mind and spirit. In the Bible, in the Hebraic understanding of people there is no separation. It was the Greeks who taught us that we are divided into body, mind and soul. The Bible never believed that. Jesus never looked upon us as being compartmentalized into different sections. Jesus looked upon a person as a unity, as a whole. Jesus saved persons. Jesus did not save souls, whatever they are. Jesus saved whole persons. Whenever there was anything in the person's life that obstructed the will of God, Jesus healed it. Jesus saved all parts of the body and spirit. It’s all intertwined and all interrelated. When they brought a paralytic to Jesus to be healed, Jesus forgave his sin and then said, “Take up your bed, take up your map, your sleeping bag, and walk.” He was healed and he walked. But first was required the forgiving of sin, the healing of a bad attitude, the healing of an inner turmoil, an inner unrest. Healing the inside that wasn’t integrated, whole and unified was necessary before the body could be healed. 

The Bible looks upon people as complete entities without being dissected. Our scripture lesson pointed that out very clearly in the book of James where we are instructed to pray for the sick and anoint with olive oil. James says this prayer made in faith will heal the sick person, the Lord will restore him to health, and the sins he has committed will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you will be healed. The prayer of a good person has a powerful effect. That's the promise. The prayer of a faithful person has a great effect and a transforming power. Involved in that act is one's relationship with God, the confession of sin, getting right with God, getting right with each other and getting right within ourselves. And in that whole act, healing may take place. The early church saw the healing of an inner life as ministry. The early church saw the healing of a physical body as ministry. Disease means not to be at ease—there’s something wrong in our lives that needs to be put right. 

Then following the days of the Bible, under the influence of Greek culture and Greek philosophy came dissection— separating the soul from the body. The body was increasingly seen as something evil. The body was seen as something sinful, and that the task of the church was to subdue the body so that the soul could be saved, to deny the body so the soul can be saved. The sex act was looked upon as sinful, and even eating and drinking needed to be subdued, so one should fast. One should remove oneself, one should deny the body in order to free the soul. Through the Greek influence, sickness was seen as something related to the body. Sickness was seen as something to be endured and something to be denied. Sickness was even seen as sent by God in order to redeem the soul, to whip the body, to beat the body so that the soul could be saved. 

It was through those pagan ideas that crept into the church, that the healing ministry exited out the back door. The laying on of hands was relegated to confirmation and to ordination. When one becomes a minister, hands are laid on. The authority of the office is transferred from the bishop to the minister. But laying on of hands for the sick was lost. Anointing with olive oil on a sick person was lost and relegated to the act of death. By the eighth century, we see anointing with olive oil only at the times of death. And finally in the Roman Church came the sacrament of Extreme Unction which meant that as one was dying they called for the priest and the priest would come and anoint with oil in order to save the soul for eternity. But any idea that the anointing of oil was for the sick was lost. 

In this century we've seen a rebirth of interest in healing ministry. Modern psychology points out to us that each person is a unity, that each person is interrelated. You cannot separate a person into body, soul and mind. And we've seen in this century a rebirth of interest in healing ministry. It first began by emotional faith healers. Traditional churches have been threatened, shocked and frightened of anything to do with healing because of the faith healers, because of their television programs or their tent meetings that are accompanied by emotional frenzy and the idea that if the faith healer lays his or her hands on someone, and they are not healed, then it has something to do with their lack of faith, or something to do with their sin. A tremendous load of guilt is laid upon the person who is not healed. Because of that extremism, we've turned away, rejected too much and have thrown out the baby with the bath.

The charismatic movement as it is growing in our day sees healing ministry return. Mainline churches, the Episcopalians have a healing service, and the Roman Catholic Church has now rewritten the sacrament of Extreme Unction. Now the sacrament is called Praying For the Sick. Now they anoint with oil in the Roman Catholic Church for the healing of sickness. Healing ministry is coming back into the church. We would like to include that in our ministry with the laying on of hands and the anointing of oil—done decently, simply and in order, believing that healing is wholeness. Anything that obstructs you and me from fulfilling the will of God is something that needs to be attacked,  something that needs to be fought, something needs to be encountered in the name of Jesus Christ. Whether it's resentment, whether it's bitterness, whether it's an unforgiving attitude that's blocking the Holy Spirit from moving, whether it's an inner healing, whether it's an emotional hurt, whether it's getting right with God, whether it's getting Christ first in our lives so that our values are properly prioritized, whether it's getting in right relationship with our family or with each other, whether there's hurts or bitterness, whether there's an illness or a pain and hurt in the body, whatever it is, healing means wholeness, and we attack all those obstructions in the name of Jesus Christ. 

I believe there is great power and energy in a loving group. Whoever will, may come. We will all lay hands on the one requesting help. I believe there's great power and energy at work as the Holy Spirit uses us. I believe that I've seen answers to prayer. I believe God hears and answers prayer. I believe people have been healed because we've prayed. I believe people have felt the love and the power of God because we've prayed. I believe when we gather together in a small group with the laying on of hands, and the ancient ceremony of anointing with oil in the name of Jesus Christ, I believe there will be a tremendous amount of caring, love, power and healing occur. I believe because God wills health. I believe it's okay to pray to God to relieve sickness. I believe it's right to pray to God to relieve pain. I believe it's right to pray to God for salvation of our whole being. I believe it's right to lay that at the feet of Jesus Christ, and to come before God in his name and pray. 

We pray in the name of Jesus, not on the basis of our faith. We pray in the spirit of allowing God to move through us, not claiming any miraculous powers, but just opening ourselves to let God use us as God will. If a person is helped or not helped, that's God's decision and not our decision. And it's not a feeling of guilt, or “How did I fail?”, or “What's wrong with me?”, or “Why is God punishing me?” That's unbiblical. We leave such matters in the hands of God for God's will to be done. In a healing service, we come as God's people, opening ourselves so the Spirit may use us as God wills. In that company, in that people, in that power, may God's will be done. 

Jesus said to the disciples, “Heal the sick and say ‘the kingdom of God is at hand’ and they were healed.

© 1979 Douglas I. Norris