A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley by Andrew McKearney on 22 January 2023
We’re in good company when it comes to memory loss! In our reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we heard that Paul couldn’t remember who he’d baptised though he could recall that he’d baptised the household of Stephanas, adding:
‘Beyond that I don’t know whether I baptised anyone
It’s a surprising comment. You’d have thought he’d be able to remember who he’d baptised, but apparently not!
For all of us, our health, including our mental health, is absolutely crucial – and as a consequence so is the NHS.
You may remember the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games when they were last held here in 2012. The director of that opening ceremony wasn’t Roddy Doyle, as I mistakenly thought, but Danny Boyle. And it was fascinating to see what he wove into that opening ceremony. He was telling the story of our nation and what we hold dear.
The centrepiece was the NHS, with beds swirling round on stage and doctors and nurses weaving in between them – and I think Danny Boyle was right. He put the NHS centre stage because that’s where it belongs, reflecting just how vital our health is and the importance of the care we receive from the NHS.
So, perhaps it’s not surprising that healing has a central place not just in our national life, but also much further back in the ministry of Jesus. We just heard Matthew summarise what Jesus did for a living. He writes:
‘Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their
synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the
kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness
among the people.’
You can’t open a page in the gospels without reading about Jesus being moved with compassion for someone. If you met him and opened your heart to him, you experienced a deep sense of healing or wholeness. It’s part of the good news of God’s kingdom. And that’s what God’s kingdom is – creation healed.
So healing lies at the heart of God’s involvement in the world, and also at the heart of Jesus’ own ministry. As those who seek to follow Christ, whatever we’re doing, wherever we’re doing it, we’re called to be people of healing and care – care for the environment, care for friends and neighbours, care for ourselves and for our families.
We express this spiritually every time we pray or intercede for different people and concerns, whether publicly at church in our intercessions, or personally in our own times of prayer. It’s been said that this sort of praying for other people is a form of ‘compassionate thinking’ which shapes who we are and how we behave.
So, you don’t need to be a doctor or a nurse or any other medical specialist to be part of God’s healing purposes for the world – it’s something we are all part of in our care for each other.
But we also know that down the centuries some have felt a particular call to follow Christ in his care for the sick. Hospitals have been built, medical schools set up, nurses trained and medical research undertaken – we’ve all benefited from the generations of people who’ve committed their lives to this.
And alongside all this, there’s the specific healing ministry of the church which we’re offering again this morning. This doesn’t deny all that I’ve said so far, but rather builds on it by focusing explicitly and solely on the love and mercy of God, available to us at every Eucharist, every time we read the scriptures, whenever we turn to the Lord in prayer and whenever God’s people gather for worship.
The love and mercy of God is made personal when hands are laid on our head or shoulder, and prayer is offered, for us or on behalf of another:
‘May Christ bring you wholeness
of body, mind and spirit,
defend you from every evil
and give you his peace.’
Through this ministry of healing, God offers us his love and mercy:
‘Receive Christ’s healing touch to make you whole.’