Healing - God’s Strength, My Weakness
2 Corinthians 12.1-10
Forty years ago, about an hour east of Raleigh, NC, stood a rural crossroads church named Corinth. That spring, we held the third great sacrament of Methodism: the revival. On that particular night, the sermon was over and the altar call had begun. We were into our third or fourth verse of “Just as I Am,” and the altar rail was pretty busy with people coming forward to ask for prayer. My job as the resident pastor was to meet each member of my flock at the altar rail, kneel down across from each one, and there to ask, “How can I pray with you tonight?” Such moments were sweet and often life-changing.
On this particular night, the altar rail was pretty busy. I was on the right end of the altar meeting the first one who had come forward -- with several more, kneeling in the center, waiting their turn. I noticed an older woman of the community being pushed in her wheel chair to a place on the far end of the altar rail by her granddaughter. Actually, I’m not sure how old she was, arthritis had so crippled her body that she looked older than her years.
At the same time, another woman came up beside her. I knew these two women to be old friends. As I said, I was busy with others who had already come to kneel, so all I could do was watch what was about to unfold.
The crowd was singing as the piano carried the familiar tune: “Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; …” The altar rail was filled with people who had come for prayer. And these two women began to pray together – one clearly praying aloud for her friend in the wheel chair. As they prayed, the woman in the wheel chair had the most blissful look on her face. And occasionally, she would flinch -- as if struck by unseen electricity. There was clearly an experience with God unfolding for these two women in that prayer. By the time I had worked my way through the others who had come to pray, they were quiet in a loving embrace. When I approached, they said with a look of absolute peace on their faces, “God is so good!”
It had struck me as I watched them pray together that this had been a time of healing for the one in the wheelchair. So, I was disappointed that she was still in the wheel chair as she left the altar. But, as they left the church that night, they were anything but disappointed! They were radiant with a quiet, strong confidence.
I thought about that experience for a long time afterwards. It seems to me that it was a healing moment – though not for the joints twisted by arthritis; they were to my eyes unchanged. But, joy had replaced worry, friendship had taken the place of isolation, and the confidence that God was present displaced all doubt.
If a pile of castoff crutches in the corner is the only way we know how to measure healing, then we are most to be pitied. Healing happens in many ways, on many levels. We just need to learn how to see it.
I want you to think about the healing of God with me today. I believe that God is still in the healing business. I believe that we still have much to learn about the healing that restores our lives and our souls.
For every one of us, sooner or later, there is going to be what I call a *front porch issue*. A front porch issue is that one issue (or maybe two) from which we cannot back down.
+You may be quiet about your politics at the family picnic, You learned a long time ago that discussing politics with certain members of your family is the surest way to ruin an afternoon.
+You may give up your spot on the World’s Fair site on the Fourth of July when someone crowds in too close. You know the spot I mean – the one you get every year because it has the perfect view of the fireworks. But, you give it up to keep the peace when someone crowds you out.
+You may wash the dishes again even though it’s your brother’s turn (and he knows that it is his turn) because it will just start a fight.
You can give those things up without a second thought. But, there is going to come an issue from which you cannot back down because backing down would violate the one thing you hold most dear.
+In the movie, Brave, there comes a moment when the queen mother sees her family being attacked by a bear, and she takes the fight. She is going to protect her family.
+On the Fourth of July, we celebrate the founders of this nation, who, according to the words of the Declaration of Independence, pledged “their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor” to establish this nation. We inherited this great nation because they didn’t back down from that commitment.
B. For Paul, the one issue from which he could not back down was his insistence that he was called by Jesus Christ to be an apostle – to bear witness to Christ to the ends of the earth. The situation leading up to the passage we read from 2 Cor this morning is that Paul’s calling and authority to carry the gospel have been challenged.
+Some said that he did not walk with Jesus like the first twelve disciples; therefore he had no authority to challenge their decisions.
+Others said that his new ideas about faith in Christ were just wrong; he had no authority to teach them.
You can almost sense Paul bristling at such charges as he speaks out in this passage. Jesus Christ is Paul’s front porch issue. The gospel is too important and his call to proclaim Christ is too important to back down.
[TEXT] Paul begins by making the case that he has seen visions and enjoyed encounters with holiness that give him all the credibility and authority he needs.
2 I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven--whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows.
Well, Paul is most likely talking about himself. He is using this indirect way of describing this experience because he is showing a little restraint. In his mind, these experiences – of being caught up into the third heaven, and transported to Paradise – are signs of his calling and his authority to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, he begins to boast of his authority, his call and his experience that stand as his foundation as an apostle of Jesus. But, just as quickly, he turns this boast on its head. And this is important because it prepares us to reflect on the matter of healing – which is where we started.
5b I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. 8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses.
Paul turns his claim of authority and experience and call on its head to point to his weakness. When I imagine myself in a similar situation, I confess that I’m not ready to make the same turn Paul did.
+You see, when I am at the peak of my game – ascending to the 3rd heaven or claiming visions of Paradise, I assume that everything else in life ought to be working, too.
+When the Bishop is telling me that I’m the best preacher he has, then to complete the moment my wife and kids are supposed to get all misty eyed when I come through the door.
+When the Governor is calling me for advice, then I assume that every area of my life ought to be clicking.
But, Paul tells us that at the points where he is strongest, this thorn in the flesh brings him back to earth. And, when he asks that God remove the thorn, then God speaks with all the shrouded language of a Greek oracle: "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." With all due respects, that does not sound like God’s assurance that healing is on the way. Instead, that sounds like God’s assurance that the thorn is going to stay.
III. So what do we make of this conversation with God that Paul has shared with us? Was God’s response a put-off or a word of assurance?
[A.] Sadly, we have reduced our understanding of healing to the narrow issue of physical healing. Worse, the only question we want answered is whether the bone is fixed, the fever is gone, or the cancer is cured. Christians have allowed the question of health to be reduced to the utilitarian question: Can you fix my hurt? Can you cure my illness? The question considers only the physical, missing so much more. The church only gets the call when all the doctors and hospitals have tried all their treatments; the patients are desperate; so they turn finally to the church. Is there anything God can do when the medical world has given up on me?
The Christian Church needs to reclaim healing as one of those areas where we are uniquely prepared to work. The church knows
+how to build strangers into Christ-formed communities;
+we know about forgiveness and reconciliation;
+we know about releasing guilt and embracing hope.
+We know about caring for the whole person.
We already know that healing has to do with more than the physical. You see, the Christian faith has always linked love of God AND neighbor, health AND salvation, and healing AND caring. In addition, Jesus linked healing AND forgiveness of sin.
+Remember the story in Mark 2 when Jesus was presented with a paralytic by his four friends. Jesus began the healing by telling the man, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus was clearly connecting forgiveness and healing. The fact that he addressed the man with the affectionate, “My son,” indicates that Jesus was restoring him back into the community. The healing Jesus offered included the physical and then went much further.
+Remember that on the night of Jesus’ arrest, Simon took out the sword he carried and cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. The man had come to join in the arrest of Jesus. He was a willing participant in the arrest and crucifixion of the Lord. But, Jesus reached out to the servant and healed his ear. Beyond the physical, he offered an act of forgiveness for this man who came to do him harm. When Jesus healed, he did so much more than attending to the physical.
And so do we. Christians visit the sick in the hospital so that we might remind those we love that there is more to healing than the merely physical.
+When someone is feeling isolated by their illness, we remind them that they are not alone.
+When someone is feeling guilty for the accident that led to an injury, we remind them that forgiveness is possible from those they have hurt and possible from God.
+When someone has an illness that carries a stigma, we go to assure them that the community has not turned its back on them.
4. Brave. Pixar Animation Studios, 2012 .