So we had a healing service on a Sunday morning.
Shorter sermon, less music up front, more music on the back end, and instructions to our Healing Prayer Team to pray sentence prayers over those who came forward.
And boy did they come forward. Streams of people at 8:30, 10, and 11:30.
The two dominant things I got to pray for were emotional anxiety and lower back issues (which will make a bit of sense when you read the sermon.)
But the most rewarding prayer request I received was the final one: from a woman who listened closely to the sermon and asked for prayer because she had the self-awareness to see that she might just be one of those who chooses sickness over health and illness over equilibrium.
Because Jesus’ haunting question to the paralyzed man in John 5 is a question for us all:
Do you want to get well?
OK, this is great. I get to tell you about the most inconsiderate, rude, sign-this-guy-up-for-mandatory-sensitivity-training thing that Jesus ever said. He just presses all the wrong buttons, ranging from a lack of compassion to special needs, and ultimately to religious purity and his own power and your own potential.
Here’s what’s going on. We’re in John 5, which means that Jesus is in the middle of one of his several trips to Jerusalem he takes in the Gospel of John. That was a big deal from someone who was from the backwaters of Galilee . . . it’s almost like Jesus was raised in and lived in Wadesboro and in John he takes all these high profile trips into the big city of Charlotte. And at the festival in John 5, look what Jesus encounters in vv. 1-3:
5 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda[a] and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.
Then look further at 5:5:
4] [b] 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.
So: whether this man is 38 or is older and has been placed there for 38 years (most likely), we don’t know, but we do know some things about his situation. Because as much difficulty as people with special needs have today, those challenges were exponentially more difficult in ancient times. There were no wheelchairs, no specialized hygiene systems, not physical therapy to battle further deterioration. None of that.
In fact, the surrounding culture regarded persons with this kind of disability, to a much larger degree than today, as fundamentally disposable. Not created in the image of God; not able to have access to the throne of grace. Discarded, disposable. So this guy of all people is in need of the Jesus we all know and love – the kind & compassionate Jesus who populated the flannel graph (AV) boards of our Sunday School classes. That’s what he needs – the kindest, gentlest Jesus he can.
What he gets the Jesus who appears to have gone to a Charm School run by Donald . . . . . . !. Look at what this Jesus says to him in 5:6; a question he utters without even being asked in the first place:
6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
Oh yuck. Cringe. Look away. Write him up a warning for his personnel file. Stage a protest. Send him to mandatory sensitivity training. It’s the most insensitive thing Jesus ever said.
Unless it’s the most brilliant.
Because we’re talking about healing prayers today and I can’t help but wonder if Jesus’ insensitivity is really just genius in disguise. Because I think of that preacher who showed up two hours late for dinner and his wife was furious. Fuming. And she asked, “How dare you! Where have you been? WHAT HAPPENED?!” And he answered sheepishly, “I met Mrs. Brown on the street and asked how she was feeling.” Doh! I know Mrs. Brown! A lot of Mrs. Browns! A few Mr. Browns, too! People who for a whole slew of reasons, when you get right down to it, prefer sickness to health. Illness to equilibrium. They hear Jesus’ do you want to get well? And if they are honest with themselves the answer is “well, not really.”
See a lot of folks are content in their sickness. It’s almost a badge of honor. The sickness or the condition comes with a lot of attention – attention that they wouldn’t get otherwise – and so all in all the benefit of the care is worth the pain of the illness. People are happy being unhappy because that puts them square in the middle of the attention.
Other folks are comfortable being sick. It’s almost an old blanket. The thought of discarding is kind of terrifying. You know what happens? Sickness/condition/addiction becomes the identity of the person. They are no longer Name but now they are their condition first, name second. It’s why I love that treatment center in NJ which follows the 12 Steps except for the self-introductions: I am , a blood-bought child of the king. Bit more staying power than My name is Talbot and I’m an alcoholic.
And then other folks I have found have a small, manageable god. A god completely bound by human logic and understanding. A god who of course doesn’t intervene and bring about suddenly dramatic healing. A god who’d never offend because he’s really not involved! And then still others have a fast God . . . oh they’ll pray and want to be made well – sort of – but if he doesn’t heal like THAT, then faith wavers and commitment wanes. And since the answer isn’t forthcoming immediately, it’s easier to lower expectations and go back to the comfort of sickness.
My goodness, there are even times when being sick or injured is almost easier. About 15 years ago I hurt my back and it made it impossible to move chairs around here (we did more of that back in the day). Well, a couple of years later, my back got better – way better, responding to prayer! – but it was awfully easy when the chair moving started NOT to correct people when they said, “Oh, no Talbot, we don’t want you to hurt your back!” I’d be like, “oh, if you insist!” Wanna get well? Not right now, no!
Yeah, what appears to be cruel out of the mouth of Jesus is actually kind of brilliant because when we think about it, we all know people who by their attitudes and actions, answer, “no, not really. I’m fine just as I am.”
But I guess I’m really not interested in people out there as I am interested in you. How do you answer the do you wanna get well question? Are you like Oh, I want to heal this relationship but I don’t want to give up this grudge. It’s kind of delicious. Are you Oh, I want to stop drinking but I need it to happen NOW because I have time for ONE step, not TWELVE. Are you Sure, I want to get over my diabetes . . . can you pass me the pie, please? I suspect that for all our finger pointing we’re overlooking the fact that the one most vulnerable to Jesus’ question is the person in the mirror. We’ve tried on our victim suit and it fits quite well, thank you.
And all that may be why the guy in John 5 – remember him? Disposable in a culture that valued him as less than human? – doesn’t even give Jesus a straight answer in John 5:7:
7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Maybe that’s like you – chronic injury, relational breakdown, acute illness – aren’t able to answer Jesus straightforwardly or truthfully either. Which is why 5:8-9 is just perfect:
8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
Not sure if you wanna get well? GET UP ANYWAY. Don’t just borrow the healing I offer; own it. Listen: Jesus longs for you and for me to take some ownership of our own healing. We’re going to have healing prayers in a bit, but God is so much more willing to do the miraculous WITH you than he is FOR you. So own it. Get up. Because I am convinced that an authentic YES to the question opens up all kinds of miraculous possibilities. Maybe our YES works something like this:
Perhaps it works like this: DEMO OF POURING WATER AND CUP W/ LID. See?! Faith removes the lid but God is still the one doing the pouring. My prayer is that as the people of this church pray and get prayed for their faith will do exactly that thing of removing the lid to allow the healing to pour. The great, great move in people’s life it to move from GOD HEALS to GOD HEALS ME to I WANT THAT. Makes all the difference.
Now: having said that the fact remains that we all live in some ambiguity. The ambiguity of why God sometimes says “yes” to healing and other times says “no” to it. I’ve lived through it as a patient and as a pray-er. So have you. I have seen people pray with unending faith, bolder faith than I have, for healing in their family and death was the result. You know what helps me come to grips with all of it? Our immediate healing is not guaranteed. Our ultimate healing, in the next life, is a guarantee. That’s not a cliché, it’s not an escape, it’s the core of the Xn life.
Whenever god doesn’t heal, it’s in part because the kingdom has yet to come in its final form. But get this: whenever he does it’s a sneak preview of what is to come! Remember: the bible is more about the rez of the body than the immortality of the soul; it’s emphasis is that one day we’re getting new, glorified bodies. Any healing now is like the movie trailer for the big even then when we’ll have resurrection bodies that won’t ever need a healing prayer! Awesome! You can only see that through faith.
And let me tell you one other thing. That kind of faith stretches you. Stretches me. Some of you know that several years ago I had some pretty severe back problems. Degenerated disc. It hurt to preach, much less run or play tennis. Anyway after trying a lot of different remedies, I went one night to a ministry known for its healing emphasis. But get this: the ministry has almost every one of those things that I mentioned earlier I don’t like. A celebrity healer. A focus on money. A weirdness. But I went. I even went up, against my better judgment, and the leader touch me on my forehead – I realized people gathered behind me because I was supposed to fall down. Well I’m way too proud to fall! So I didn’t. I left the service shortly thereafter, a little disgusted, no warm fuzzies, bothered by the spectacle of the whole thing.
But you know what? I don’t have back troubles anymore. Isn’t that crazy? My back got better that night! God is that sovereign. I believe he was saying to me, “Talbot I’m going to use a ministry that you disagree w/ and are uncomf with to heal you to show you I’m the one healing and not you or your GS method.” That’s the sovereignty of God. I can only respond in faith.
Because one other thing goes on when we say YES to the most insensitive question ever. It’s in 5:15:
15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
5:15 is really the answer to 5:6. Jesus wants to move this guy from helpless to healer. From discarded to instrument. Yeah, I believe that a lot of you, when the answer is YES to 5:6, you will not only receive the gift of being healed, but the gift of healing as well. Yeah you! It’s the one gift that I know from experience is conveyed in the receiving of it. What you’ve been given, you then give. Because instead of a church full of people very comfortable in their infirmities, I long for a community of healed healers at GSUMC. Then we’d know what a living, healing relationship with Jesus Christ is all about.
Healing Service on Sunday!