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Vicar’s sermon April 21st 2024 Acts 4. 5-12

In the 1440s Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor of the Duchy of Burgundy, put a huge part of his great wealth to use by endowing a Hospital for the poor in the town of Beaune. The building is still there and queues of tourists visit every day to see what is a late medieval wonder of architecture and to marvel at the foresight and generosity of its patron. The hospital’s work is still being carried out: funded by the Grand Cru vineyards of the surrounding area, its work now takes place in modern facilities. The order of nuns who ran the hospital in its original building for 5 centuries have made way for modern medical professionals as you might imagine. Rolin’s hospital placed the healing ministry of the church front and central: his high ceilinged 32 bed ward offered sanctuary, community and care to those who needed it….and, at the end of the ward was the chapel (complete with a triptych behind the altar painted by Roger van der Weyden), a chapel that enabled those who were bed bound to take part in the Mass: Body, mind and soul served in the name of Jesus.
One of our parish priorities is Christian healing: indeed we offer prayer for healing with the laying on of hands and anointing at today’s service. The healing ministry of the Christian church is a reflection of Jesus’ ministry and we carry it out in obedience to His command. Even the most cursory glance over the gospels shows that Jesus was known for works of healing as much as for his teaching. Miracles of healing involve different methods by which this takes place: sometimes he touches the patient (sometimes not), sometimes he is present alongside the person in need (sometimes he is not). He heals people of various diseases, lepers, those who are blind, the lame, men, women and children. We’re even told that he raised the dead. Sometimes those who come for healing have faith, sometimes it is the faith of others that matters (think of the man lowered through the ceiling of a house).
After the resurrection this healing ministry was carried on by the apostles, this morning’s New Testament reading being a case in point. These Sundays of Easter have given us instalments in the story of a man healed by Peter and John outside the temple in Jerusalem – today’s reading shows them being brought before the court in Jerusalem for disturbing the peace by doing so and for teaching that Jesus was the Messiah. Healing, however, was (and is) a part of what the church of God does. That the church has been involved in the healing ministry for centuries is beyond dispute – just think of the names of our great teaching hospitals (St Bart’s, St Thomas’s) – Christian ministry and healing are intertwined. Indeed, one theologian ((Hans Kung) speaking of healing said ‘The Kingdom of God is creation healed’.
But we have a difficulty don’t we? … possibly more than one! Today’s story from Acts, indeed all those stories from the Gospels show us people being ‘cured’, not just ‘cured’ but ‘miraculously cured’. What do we do with this? Did it happen then? More importantly ‘does it happen now?’ Can people be cured through prayer?….and what of those who are not? These questions get us into some very hot water but they are important questions.
I don’t have any easy answers, I suspect that these are questions we need to have a conversation with throughout our lives and that our answers may change one way or another down the years. But something that I have found helpful recently is to draw a distinction between ‘being cured’ and ‘being healed’: (I realise that this distinction doesn’t help us with the passage from the Acts of the Apostles we have this morning but it is still useful.)
Firstly, if you want a cure then any Christian ministry of healing must involve medical professionals: we’ve lived for too long with false divisions between body, mind and spirit and it would be healthy to realise that all medicine, all knowledge, all human ingenuity and skill finds its origin in a generous, gracious God. If you break your leg go to the hospital. If you have asthma you will benefit from some of the drugs produced up the road at Glaxo. There are some diseases that can be cured. Some symptoms that can be alleviated through medical knowledge and wise prescription….
But then healing. When someone is ill, chronically ill, cure may not be possible but a measure of healing may be possible. What do I mean? If you are ill (long term ill perhaps) your illness doesn’t just affect your body. You may no longer have the mobility you used to. Some activities you used to enjoy may now be beyond you. You may not be able to work. Your self esteem may take a hammering. Life can become a round of appointments and procedures – indeed the whole pattern of your life can change through a diagnosis, your relationship with the wider community or with your loved ones who seek to care for you shifts, sometimes that shift can take you and your family to some pretty grim places. These things may even become more difficult to manage than the condition itself. Take, for example Sue who was featured in this week’s Teesdale Mercury: sepsis meant that she needed to have her right leg amputated beneath the knee. The newspaper tells us that her amputation has led to limitations on her life and that having a wheelchair would help her ‘regain her freedom. Instead of having to sit out when there are outdoor activities’ she said, ‘I could take part actively again. I lost everything when I had the operation, it would mean the world to me.’ No-one can give Sue her leg back…but enabling her to become active and part of the community again may well bring some measure of healing which is different to being cured, deeper, more significant.
In amongst the international news this week we heard that the numbers of those who are long term sick are likely to get worse over coming years; we know there is mental health crisis in our country at the moment, we also know that life expectancy in the poorer parts of our country is significantly lower than in the more affluent areas. Our treasured health system is in crisis; health professionals are under immense stress and many are leaving the profession to which they felt called, giving up their vocation. But here’s another thought: there are more Christian Churches than there are health centres in this country.
So just imagine…imagine if every church could find a welcome and a valued place for those who need to be healed. Healed of a broken heart following a bereavement. Healed of low self -esteem if poor mental or physical health has undermined a sense of being loved and valued by anyone, let alone God. Healed of the pain that broken and fractured relationships bring as the honesty of Christian confession and the assurance of forgiveness gradually eases guilt and softens memory of failure or distress. Healed of anxiety and stress as a whole community protects and nurtures, supports and cares for those who struggle – and we all struggle at times. Imagine healing to be something that happens when we make music together or offer a lift to someone who might otherwise ‘not get’ to an event. Imagine the difference a listening ear can make to someone trying to make sense of what has happened to them or their family and how much difference being alongside someone else can make. We do these things, we focus them in our particular prayers but we offer this ministry often unaware of how it is received or felt. Imagine what it means for someone who is housebound to get a phone call from you, to be remembered…or to know that you will visit not just once but again and again. Think of your support for Christian Aid next month as offering the healing benefit of clean water to someone who might die of disease without it.
The Kingdom of God is creation healed. Who does this healing. Jesus. The one who still carries his own wounds. The one who is alongside us and for us, no matter how deep into darkness we might fall: the rejected one who has become the cornerstone of the new creation. He is the one who heals through us, he has no hands but ours, no feet but ours. There is salvation (healing, wholeness) in no one else but Jesus for it is in His name that we are all healed.

2023 Sermons