Sermon for Lent 3, Year A, 2008
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: St. John 4:5-42
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty…”
Today’s text from St. John’s Gospel tells the stories of individuals who were seeking something more. On the surface, the were concerned about meeting their basic needs of survival – water to drink and food to eat – but at a deeper level, they knew as we know, that we do not live by bread alone. Thus, at some deep, intrinsic level, they knew that being alive, being human, was about more than meeting their basic needs, but also about satisfying a hunger for God. And in today’s text Jesus recognized those hidden needs, educated those who came to him, and offered to meet the deepest longings of their hearts. To those who received him, he gave them the gift of his divine presence. The depth of their understanding was expanded and the longing ember of their heart was ignited to share the good news with others.
Many of you will know that for some years, I have served as a member of the Bishop’s Committee on Healing. As next Sunday is the week in which we anoint for healing and highlight the Church’s healing ministry, Canon Greg has asked me to reflect, on the healing ministry here at Holy Trinity and share some of my observations and reflections.
On the surface, our passage from St. John’s Gospel does not appear to be a text about the healing ministry, and yet, I think that if we look more closely, we can draw some important conclusions about healing ministry from the text. Primarily this text tells us that things may not always be as they seem. By this I mean that often in healing we seek one thing when we really need, and deeply long for, another. This was certainly the case with the woman at the well. On one level she sought to have her bodily need for sustenance met, and yet, on a deeper level, she longed also for another kind of sustenance – for living water.
In the healing ministry, we do, without a doubt seek after physical healing, which we call “cure.” However, in spite of technology, and anti-aging formulas, we must face the reality that human bodies simply wear out. Complete physical health is a bit of an illusion given this fact. Now, do not get me wrong, it is my firm belief that there can be physical healing from ailments and disease, and yes, I do believe in miracles, but I have also been aware that many times, when we pray hard, desire faithfully, and live wholesomely, there is no physical healing. Thus, while physical cure is important, I think that the healing ministry must not stop there or become obsessed with physical cure, but probe more deeply into the health of the whole person – body, mind, spirit.
I am pleased to minister in a church in which parish nursing is so strongly embraced. We have in this parish a talented and passionate parish nurse who exercises care for the people of God with holy compassion and spiritual gentleness. In counseling, advocating, advising and educating, she, along with a supportive health and wellness committee, responds not only to the concerns of parishioners about their physical health, but also to concerns about their emotional and spiritual well-being. Parish nursing ministry is a ministry that understands healing in its broadest sense and seeks to incarnate the healing ministry of Jesus in the everyday life and concerns of Christian people.
Growing out of our parish nursing ministry is the prayer shawl ministry. Prayer shawls are knit in love and prayer and offered to someone with a physical need, emotional or spiritual need. Those who receive them feel enfolded in the love of God and the prayer of this community. This ministry is growing and we wish to highlight it as part of our healing ministry. On the first Sunday of the month at the 10:00 a.m, beginning next week, prayer shawls collected over the previous month will be offered up in prayer at our monthly healing service, as part of our offertory prayer. The prayer shawls will be brought up and presented by an individual who participates in this ministry.
Another important healing ministry at Holy Trinity is that of intercessory prayer. Two important ways in which we do this are through the “prayers of the people” in our liturgy and through the confidential prayer chain. In each case, we remember those close to us who are in need of any sort of healing – body, mind and spirit. We encourage you to provide names for the intercessor that he or she may pray for those in need, but more importantly, we encourage you also to name those known to you in the silence provided during the Intercessions. God knows the needs of God’s people, but simply naming them aloud gives each of us the chance to stand together in loving care for those who seek God’s healing touch. You may be a bit nervous about it at first, but go ahead, give it a try, you will feel warmed by the knowledge that you have stood with your brothers and sisters in loving prayer. The prayer list continues to grow and we are considering reading some of the names at the early service, some at the later service and some on the Wednesday service. In addition to our public intercessions, we encourage you to make use of the confidential prayer chain. You make contact its coordinato to request confidential healing prayer for yourself or loved ones.
Finally, I am delighted that the ministry of anointing continues to be lovingly offered at Holy Trinity. I have been involved in the training of anointers for a number of years and this ministry is close to my heart. I wish to remind you also that if you find yourself sick at home, in hospital, preparing for an operation or procedure, this sacramental ministry is entirely appropriate and one of the clergy would be pleased to visit you both for anointing and the Church’s primary sacrament of healing, the Holy Eucharist.
Anointing is open to all persons, regardless of whether or not they are baptized for God’s healing touch is offered to all. Anointing with oil is a rich and ancient symbol. In the ancient world oil was treated as a medicine to be applied as a salve to wounds, burns and other physical ailments. In the tradition of the Church is has been seen as a sacramental sign of Christ as medicine to soul. Like any sacrament it is the outward visible sign of the inward spiritual grace. And like any sacrament it is to be received only by the person seeking the sacrament only. This is why the Church does not allow anointing by proxy, or on behalf of another person. Indeed, our diocese has a policy to this effect. I recognize that there has been some confusion around this point, but remember, one does not receive communion on behalf of another, one is not baptized on behalf of another, and one certainly does not get a stand-in spouse when they are getting married. Anointing is for your healing, your wholeness, your need of God’s healing touch. Intercessory prayer, as part of the prayers of the people or privately with a partner or through the prayer chain are appropriate ways for praying for loved ones in need of health and wholeness.
So as we have seen, the healing ministry is being carried out in so many ways in this place. We are partners with the living Christ in his healing ministry and we continually seek new ways to be faithful proclaimers of the Lord who mends not only broken bodies but broken hearts and spirits. May each of us find living water to quench our thirsty souls and bread from heaven to sustain us on our journey.