We had a really, REALLY powerful worship service this morning. I preached on the healing texts (sermon below) and decided to shorten my sermon and then invite everyone to come forward and receive healing prayers. I used the text from the gospel, “Do not fear, only believe,” and when each person walked up to the altar, the Deacon of the month and I laid hands on them and prayed, “Do not fear; believe in the healing powers of God.” I laid my hands on everyone’s heads and John on their shoulders. Jordan played Just a Closer Walk With Thee on the piano as everyone came up and once everyone went through the line we had an ensemble sing the song a capella to close.
It was really powerful. As mainline protestants, we tend not to be good at the touchy-feely stuff, but I could tell that people really needed this. A lot of people held onto our shoulders as we prayed. People wept as we prayed over them. Some even said as they walked up, “You have no idea how much I needed this today.”
It just goes to show that when you feel God pushing you outside of your comfort zone, you have to trust God, yourself and the people you are in ministry with to take that step. It truly was a morning I will never forget!
Here is the sermon, with audio.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
June 28, 2015
The Power Of Human Touch
These healing stories are such an enigma to me.
When I was a hospital chaplain, I remember being called to the NICU one night where they were removing life-sustaining measures from a three-day-old. The whole process was heart wrenching on so many levels, one of them being that while I sat and prayed with this family that was losing a child, there were many other families in the same room as us – the NICU was one big room – that were praying for a very different outcome.
And, in fact, many of those families got a very different outcome.
As humans, we are constantly living in the tension of what we believe to be true – that God can and will heal us – and the reality of this world – that sometimes healing does not happen when and how we want it to. Time and time again, we ask ourselves questions that we just do not have an answer to: Why is someone sick when this other person is healthy? Why did one person die when another person lived? Why were my prayers not answered?
It does not matter how faithful you are or how strongly you believe in God’s promises, you are only human if you ask these questions.
In fact, I was struggling with these very questions this week as I prepared my sermon. I read this passage on healing over and over again hoping to find something that would shed some light on healing in the midst of a broken and imperfect world.
And eventually I was drawn, not to the healing itself in this story, but to the way that this story uses the power of human touch to heal.
A woman had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years and the instant that she touched Jesus’ cloak, her bleeding stopped.
Jesus took the hand of a girl that was presumed to be dead and as soon as he touched her, she got up and began to walk.
Divine healing in this story did not happen from afar; it happened with touch, with some sort of human connection.
This story is telling us that there is real power in human touch, that divine healing happens when human beings put aside any barriers that may have been put up and lay hands on one another in the name of God.
So perhaps this is how we are supposed to live in the tension between divine healing and our broken world. In a society that is often obsessed with hand sanitizers and personal space (and believe me, I thoroughly enjoy both of these things!), perhaps we are being called through the gospel to step outside of our comfort zones and let God use the power of human touch within us to create healing in this world. Perhaps we are supposed to hold someone when they feel alone, squeeze someone’s hand when they are shaking and embrace someone when they are feeling anxious.
I do not think that we will ever find answers to our questions about healing in our earthly lives. But I do think that in the midst of our brokenness, we called to create a spiritual intimacy with one another so that God can use us to be active participants in the healing that so desperately needs to be done in this world. It might not always be easy – in fact, there may be moments where it is downright uncomfortable.
But I think that in those moments when there are simply no words that could possible be spoken that could make a situation better, we are called to lay hands on one another and pray as hard as we can. And we are called to believe – really and truly believe – that our human touch is powerful enough to make a difference.
When people were trying to convince the leader of the synagogue that his daughter was dead and there was nothing Jesus could do about it, Jesus looked at him and said, “Do not fear, only believe.” Then Jesus walked to the leader’s house with Peter, James and John and laid his hands on the girl and she was healed.
Do not fear; only believe.
We have to believe that healing can happen, even if we do not understand it. We cannot be afraid to put ourselves out there. We have to be willing to tear down the “comfortable” barriers that the society we are living in has put up around us, barriers that often keep us from a closeness with one another that Jesus displayed in his own life.
We should never underestimate the power of a hug or of holding someone’s hand or of embracing someone in need. We should never believe that God is doing anything less than something miraculous when we lay our hands on someone in pain.
I think that we will always be left to wonder why bad things happen to good people, why some people are taken from this earth when they are young and why some people are in good health while others experience sickness and pain. But I also believe that in the midst of the confusion this imperfect world, we can and are called to make a difference through the power of human touch.
The leader of the synagogue went to Jesus and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” And in the same way that Jesus heard the pleas of this man and followed him so that he could lay hands on his sick child, I think we are also called to listen to where God is leading us and lay hands on the people in this world who are sick, tired, needy, marginalized and hopeless.
I know it is not easy. I know there are moments of discomfort when it is easier for us to turn our heads down and walk the other way.
But God created all of us in a divine image and when God’s blessed children cry out, we are called to react.
So let us tear down the barriers that have been put up around us that dictate how, when and why we can show affection. Let us allow ourselves to be a little bit uncomfortable if it can change someone else’s life for the better. Let us create a spiritual intimacy with one another that mimics the intimacy Jesus showed towards his disciples. Let us allow God to heal through us and through the power of human touch.
Thanks be to God!