"Honour a physician with the honor due unto him for the
uses which ye may have of him: for the Lord hath created him. ÖThe Lord
hath created medicines out of the earth; and he that is wise will not abhor
them" (Ecclesiasticus 38:1,4).
Years ago when I served in Denver, the priest at a neighboring parish
was considered one of the "town characters." He ran a sort of "science
of mind" operation, full of the type of "metaphysical" talk about the unreality
of the human body and the "illusion" of the physical world that is more
appropriate to Buddhism or a sect like Christian Science than it is to
orthodox Biblical Christianity.
The diocese didnít seem to mind his preaching that the right "spiritual
knowledge" and thinking the right "spiritual thoughts" could make a person
healthy, happy, and rich. His doctrine may have been the ancient heresy
of Gnosticism, the belief that there is a secret knowledge of life and
success to be learned only outside the Bible. But he had a big following,
which looked good on the annual membership reports, and he always paid
his substantial diocesan assessment on time.
Then there came a day when his theories about the unreality of the body
and the illusion of its sicknesses were put to the test. Despite his so-called
"special spiritual knowledge," he died like anybody else. This actually
surprised some people, although not as much as the $275,000 in cash that
the probate court discovered in his safety deposit box. That is a lot of
"material illusions" by anyoneís standards, and how he collected them is
an interesting story in itself. Apparently when he was asked to pray for
somebody, he would send a bill for his services.
His stock in trade was "miracles on demand," and people were glad to
pay for them, on the strength of the notion that "you get what you pay
for." People even paid when they didnít get their wishes, since he could
always fall back on the same old explanation used by every commercial "faith
healer" in the history of the world. The problem wasnít with his promises
or his ability to keep them, but with their lack of faith. If they would
only believe in him more, and pay him more, things would get better. Dying,
of course, put a real dent in his business, but most of his followers just
went off looking for another guru to exploit them.
Real Christians, though, donít believe that the world or the human body
is an illusion. Otherwise the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the
becoming a real man in a real world of the Son of God, would all be a lie.
We believe that Almighty God created the physical world and the physical
body for a purpose, and while sin may have temporarily interrupted that
purpose, by introducing sickness and sorrow into the world that God made
good, the Son of God became man to restore the world and the human race
to precisely his Fatherís purpose. And that purpose, put simply, is this:
to show forth the glory and goodness of the life of God, and to share them
with his human creatures made in his own image and likeness.
We exist to glorify God, and for the sake of our real freedom, God did
not coerce us into the goodness that glorifies him, or make it impossible
for us to act otherwise. Instead, he gave us permission to fail on our
own, while retaining for himself the freedom to give us the grace to succeed
in his Son Jesus Christ, God made man for the redemption of the world from
God knows very well then, however many foolish theories we may develop
about the illusory nature of this world, that human pain and suffering,
whether physical, spiritual, or both (and it is almost always "both") are
very real indeed. He knows that we hurt and suffer, because he is God and
because his Son Jesus Christ entered into our pain and suffering, bearing
them for our salvation. We are just as real, our pain is just as real,
as the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is real.
We cannot understand miracles, then, and especially miracles of healing,
if we do not understand the reality of this world as God has created it
and as Jesus Christ has redeemed it. In todayís appointed Gospel and New
Testament Lesson, our Lord Jesus Christ performs any number of miracles
of healing. These all have the same purpose as creation itself or any other
miracle that God has ever performed. Christís healing has the same purpose
as the Parting of the Red Sea, the Feeding of the Multitude, or the Resurrection
on Easter Day: to proclaim the glory, goodness, and mercy of God to real
men and real women in a real world.
Miracles are a demonstration in time and space of the truth that God
is life, and that the opposition to God known as sin is death. Miracles
canít be bought and sold, because God canít be bought and sold. Miracles
canít be had on demand or wheedled out of God by some magic formula. God
will do his miracles as he chooses and as he knows is best for us and for
our final salvation. He has already told us by the resurrection of his
Son how the lives of the faithful will turn out. They will have their own
resurrection on the Last Day and eternal life with the Blessed Trinity
in a new heaven and a new earth purged of sin and death. God has already
made his promises, and our job is to believe them, rather than to demand
a constant stream of miracles as the price of our belief. To demand payment
in miracles for loving God isnít religion. It is a form of prostitution.
At the same time, none of this means that God has ceased to do miracles,
or that we should cease to trust in him to intervene on our behalf by whatever
means he chooses as best. Whenever we are healed, physically or spiritually,
it is a miracle, since the natural order of this sinful world is sickness
and death. Some doctors may charge today as if they were miracle men, but
they are still Godís creatures. God made them, and everything that they
do is dependent upon the order of the world as God has created it, upon
the substances that God has created for them to use as medicines, and upon
the grace of God for the outcome of their labors. Truly wise and good physicians
are also believers, charitable and faithful, fulfilling the words of Ecclesiasticus
written so long ago: "For they shall also pray unto the Lord that he would
prosper that which they give for ease and remedy to prolong life" (38:14).
This is the applied message of the Scriptures, distilled into the passage
from Ecclesiasticus, an ancient book of Biblical wisdom, that we read this
morning. "Ecclesiasticus" means "a churchman," and this book was written
between the Old and New Testaments as a handbook for practical living on
the part of those who love God and believe his Word. A true believer does
not try to choose between the services of a doctor and the miraculous administration
of Godís grace. He is open to, and grateful for, every grace that God has
to offer, whether from within this world or from outside of it. He knows
that when he is healed that it is Godís doing, by whatever means. And he
knows that when he suffers it is never without a purpose that blesses him
and glorifies God, as he shares the Cross with Christ.
A truly faithful Christian knows that he will be perfectly healed forever
at the General Resurrection of the dead, and that in the meantime healing
will come in many forms, physical and spiritual. St. James wrote of this
in his Epistle:
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and
let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him
up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess
your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.
The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (James 5:14-16).
These words arenít an advertisement for "faith healing." They are the
promise of the healing of the faithful in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
They are a call to confess the sin that is the original cause of all illness
and sorrow, and a divine oath made by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost
that God will always hear our prayers and answer them as he knows is best
for us. Today that may mean the healing of our bodies, but it also means,
today, always, and forever, our redemption from sin, sickness, and death
by the Blood of Jesus Christ. It means that if we will benefit from it
now, God will raise us up from our sickbeds; and, if not, he will most
certainly raise us up from the dead to eternal life and health in his kingdom.
Our Church, in obedience to God and his Holy Scriptures, provides a
form for the anointing or "unction" of the sick, which you can find in
our Book of Common Prayer. It isnít just for the dying or the gravely ill,
but for all the faithful as they try to cope with the struggles and ills
of this life. And you are entitled to ask for it any time you want, whether
I remember to offer it to you or not.
You wonít be receiving a bill, however, since the grace of God is freeóJesus
Christ has already paid the price for it. And I wonít be healing you, anymore
than your family physician will. God has called us both to our vocations,
and it is our duty to serve as he has called each of us to administer his
grace to his people. God is the One who will heal you, as he has healed
everybody else who has ever been healed. And God will lift you up and save
you, as long as you trust in him alone always to do what is best for you.
This is no secret. It is the Good News of Godís glory that Jesus Christ
has commanded that we preach to all the world.
Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation.
If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please
credit St. Andrewís Church and Dr. Tarsitano.