Sermon at St Mary Hadlow – Trinity 1 – 29th May 2016
Rev’d Christoper Miles
1 Kings 8 vv 22, 23 and 41 – 43 Solomon’s prayer of dedication expressing his concern for the foreigner
Luke 7 vv 1 – 10 Jesus heals the Centurion’s servant
Theme – Ministry of healing then and now
- Introduction. I count it a joy and privilege to be here preaching at this Sunday morning service, the first time since our Remembrance Service last November. I should just add that this is not because either Paul has gone off me or that I have gone off Hadlow. Far from it. In the previous two months, March and April, I conducted 12 services of which 7 were either in Hadlow or connected with Hadlow.
Two weeks ago Paul mentioned a survey of churchgoers. One thing he didn’t say was that 10% of those surveyed said that they thought a sermon should be at least 30 minutes. As I preach at about 10% of Sunday 10 a.m. services, perhaps I can fill that felt need. We will have to see. Also 19% of 25 – 34-year-olds thought that a sermon should last more than 30 minutes. Perhaps if I preach longer sermons the younger adults would come flocking in. Beware the misuse of statistics. Enough of that!
I have for a long time felt an affinity with the Roman Centurion, having held a somewhat similar rank, that of Squadron Leader, in the Royal Air Force. There is a saying “there’s no such thing as bad soldiers, only bad officers”. Clearly the Roman Centurion was a good officer who cared for his soldiers, his servants and the local community. A good role model for a military officer in any age. The incident of the healing of his servant is one from which we can all learn much – that is of course why Luke has included the account in his Gospel. Focussing on this incident but also roaming more widely through the gospels, I would like to explore with you this morning some of the features of Jesus’ healing ministry and then briefly consider the implications for the Church today.
FEATURES OF JESUS’ HEALING MINISTRY
- Faith. Clearly Jesus’ healing ministry was an important aspect of his ministry. About a third of the gospels is taken up with accounts of him healing someone. Very often an element of faith is explicit and may have been significant on other occasions as well. Certainly in today’s account faith is a very strong feature. Jesus commends the faith of the Roman Centurion in the strongest possible terms, so strongly that it may even have been shocking to some who heard him say, “I tell you not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
In what way did the Centurion particularly exhibit faith?
Most people would like to have the big man himself.
The Jewish elders even said to Jesus, “He is worthy of having you do this for him (that is, heal his servant), for he loves our people and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” Yes, he must have been quite an unusual person. Can you imagine a Muslim sheikh paying for the building of a Christian Church? Well actually ‘Yes’, I can. About 15 years ago, as the city of Dubai expanded along the coast, the Sheikh of Dubai gave the land for the building of 4 Christian Churches, Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Others, some 15 miles out from the centre of the city. But what was so remarkable about the faith of the Centurion? He didn’t expect Jesus himself to come to him, he thought that he would send one of his disciples. As he says, he is a man in command; if he needs something done he commands a soldier to do this or go there or instructs his servant to see to the cooking of his lunch. He is used to delegating and expects Jesus to do the same, either by sending a disciple or by just giving a word of command that would effect the healing of his servant.
Many years ago Dr Leslie Weatherhead wrote a book about the element of faith in so many of Jesus’ healing miracles. Faith is an important element, but note that the faith is not necessarily that of the sick person. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t. It is 4 friends who lower the paralyzed man through the roof of the house and in the account today it is the faith of the servant’s master not that of the servant.
Furthermore Jesus often wants to elicit, to draw out and to strengthen the faith of those who come to him. Faith is one important feature of Jesus’ healing.
- Messiah. Secondly, many saw in Jesus a great prophet, a great teacher. Jesus knows that it is important that people should not stop at that point but see that he is God’s promised Messiah, he is Emmanuel – God with us. And so Jesus’ healing ministry complements his teaching. He heals people as a demonstration, a sign of who he is. And so, substantiation of who he is, was another important feature of his healing miracles. St John builds his gospel around 7 signs some of which are healing, such as the healing of an official’s son. The sixth sign is the raising of Lazarus and the seventh is his own resurrection, the final and greatest sign of his divine nature.
- Kingdom of God. Thirdly Jesus frequently spoke in his teaching, of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, using parables to explain the character of this kingdom. The kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed, the kingdom of God is like yeast hidden in the meal. His healing works are signs of the kingdom. That kingdom has been inaugurated, it has begun but has not reached its fulfilment.
Divine healing says to people that the day is coming in the new heaven and the new earth when there will be no more mourning or crying or pain.
- The outsider. The fourth and final feature, to which I would draw your attention, of Jesus’ healing in general and applicable in the case of the Centurion’s servant, is that so often Jesus reaches out to and responds positively to the outsider, the Gentile, the despised Samaritans and the Jewish tax collectors. One has to think only of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10 vv 25 – 37), Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan women at the well of Sychar (John 4), the healing of the Syro-Phonecian woman’s daughter (Mark 7 v 36). This must have prepared the way for the acceptance of Gentiles into the Church in the Apostolic era. I note also that Solomon in his prayer at the dedication of the temple expressed a strong concern for the foreigner. Whatever our views on the need to limit immigration, we should give a welcome to those people from other countries who are here in our land.
HEALING IN THE CHURCH TODAY
- With all the development of Western medicine there is I believe a place for a continuing healing ministry in the life of the Church. Just a few aspects of such a healing ministry.
- The Church’s ministry should work in co-operation with the best of medicine. God has given us minds and ability to develop many medicines and methods of healing. It should only very, very, rarely be a case of ‘throw away your medicines and trust God alone for your healing’.
- Prayer is important. We pray by name each Sunday for people who are sick or in some particular way are in need of God’s grace. Few of us have the faith of the Roman Centurion and believe that God is suddenly going to physically heal all the people we pray for each Sunday. If that did happen though, the prayer list would soon get much shorter! Most of us, when we are unwell, respond more effectively to a specific prayer said in our presence.
- Faith is important but it may be more often the faith of friends and ministers than that of the sick person. One should never say to a person, “You were not healed because your faith was lacking”.
- Spiritual or divine healing can today be a sign of the kingdom of God pointing the healed person and others to faith in the risen and ascended Messiah, our Lord Jesus.
- Sometimes God’s answer is more in the nature of spiritual healing, as for example in Marilyn Baker here in Hadlow, who is totally blind and has a wonderful Christian ministry through her music. For example in 2014 she went to India to encourage the Christian Church to respect disabled people, so that they are recognised fully as God’s children. Sometimes God’s answer is the perfect and complete healing through death, in the life to come.
- The sick person should therefore come to God in openness as well as expectation, a willingness to be in harmony with God and his purposes whether that is achieved through physical healing or serving him in weakness, for as God answered Paul’s prayer, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12 v 9).
- The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Church at Corinth, cites the gift of healing as one of the important gifts of the Spirit (I Cor 12 v 9), to be used for the building up of the Church (I Cor 14 v 11). This is one way, in which quietly and effectively, the church can reach out to the general community and win people for Christ.
- Finally as in the example of the Roman Centurion, let us look for faith in places and people where we might not normally expect such a response. There are for example today, many men and women in our Armed Forces today who have a very real faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Also many of the refugees coming to our country are people of faith.
- Let us be encouraged by the account of the healing of the Centurion’s servant. Let us be willing to respond to God’s prompting to use all his gifts through the Spirit, especially the gift of healing, that the kingdom of God may be more fully realised in Hadlow. Next week we will see in the gospel, Jesus’ compassion as a strong motivator for an act of healing. The survey I referred to earlier found that only 9% of those over 65 wanted a 30 minute sermon so in deference to the older members of the congregation, I have kept my sermon fairly short.
1777 words Rev Christopher Miles