This is the text of the message I prepared for the Day Centre act of worship at Kaniva Hospital (West Wimmera Health Service) for Tuesday 2nd July 2019. I had been ill all of the previous week with Manflu.
Psalm 13; Luke 9:11; Psalm 27:14
Illness is one of those things that strikes each of us at times, and because of this it is a common theme in Biblical writing. I was at a youth conference twenty years ago, (indeed it’s thirty years ago since I was a youth, but that’s beside the point) and one of the speakers there was asked what her favourite Bible story was. She said she didn’t have one favourite above all others, but she’d have to say her favourite stories, plural, were any place where Jesus does healing.
I have lived with illness in some form or another for all of my adult life. At age eighteen I contracted what was then called Chronic Fatigue Immunodeficiency Syndrome, and it has gone by other names since. I had a rough year completing my HSC, and dropped out of Uni after one semester to take half a year off before returning to try again. At some point that CFIDS became a series of mental health conditions and I have lived with Anxiety and Depression, but not fatigue, since my early thirties. I’m now forty-seven if anyone is keeping count. So I like those stories where Jesus does healing too, and I like even more so that Jesus defines the big-picture work of ministry as having healing at its core.
In Luke 4:18-19 in Jesus first recorded episode of him teaching he reads from the prophet in the local synagogue meeting. In paraphrase we can say that Jesus says of himself “I have come to bring healing and to heal”. Later, in Luke 9:11, in a verse that can be overlooked as we rush into the bigger story of the Feeding of 5000 we read that Jesus welcomed the crowd, and spoke to them about the Kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. I like that neat phrase, “healed those who needed healing”; there’s nothing worthy or deserving about them, just that they needed healing for whatever ailed them, and Jesus healed them. And there’s the work of ministry again; teaching the Kingdom and aiding the weak.
Jesus did four things in his ministry as an itinerant rabbi: he healed the sick, he raised the dead, he cast out demons (which is to say he freed the oppressed), and he proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, the time when the Father would come to Earth to reign as king in the New Jerusalem. This is what the Church is supposed to do now, and to be honest and fair this is what the Church is doing. It’s easy to be hard on the Church and disappointed in our local congregations and ministries, and perhaps more so in our structures and hierarchy, but across the majority of the planet in the majority of the faith communities Jesus’ work is being gone about quietly and in Holy Spirit’s power.
So, in the past few weeks I’ve been especially sick. Not mortally wounded, but in addition to my ongoing struggles with Anxiety and Sleep Apnoea I’ve had a cold. I would love it if Jesus would walk up Commercial Street East so that I could rush out and touch the hem of his cloak, or that he would turn up at Shared Ministry on Sunday and heal those who need healing, but that’s not the reality of Australia in 2019. So I have had to rely on my own immune system, (remembering that my body and its systems were ravaged by an Immunodeficiency Syndrome for thirteen years), my own common sense, (remembering that my mind and its systems have been ravaged by a mental illness for the past sixteen years), and the best efforts of the local health care practitioners. I’m not sleeping well, I’m coughing like an Australian (everything is coming out green and gold), my head aches, my ears buzz, and I need it all to stop. But in all of this I know that God is good, that Jesus is Lord, and that I am a long way from death’s door.
Not so much a Bible story, but a Bible verse which leads into my own story, (but a story for another time perhaps) is Psalm 27:13-14. This passage was my anchor in my dark and mad days of a decade ago: I am confident of this; I will see the goodness of The LORD while I am alive; be strong, take heart, and wait for The LORD. My hope in all things, be it the depth of suicidal madness, or the triviality of a snotty nose, or even the best of physical health available to this ravaged jar of clay, is that God has promised an end to suffering: and that end is not a quick death and then a harp on a cloud, but it is the restoration of the complete and sovereign rule of The LORD Almighty upon the renewed Earth for all of the ages to come. That’s a happy ending, and that’s worth waiting out a cold for.