Not even the text message from a staff member, informing me of the horrible death of two of our very dear patients, could dampen my spirits for long this weekend. I paused to mourn their senseless death, at the hands of a mad man and asked God why should a couple in their 80's, God-fearing and faithful be allowed to die like that. Why?
But that was only one story for the week. The other was a story of joy, of worship, of teaching, of fellowship, of celebrating God's goodness to us in and through Jesus Christ. And most importantly, of healing, as I spent the weekend, at the now must-go, cannot-miss, Annual Healing Conference organized by one of the Bishops of the Anglican Church. But which takes on, without apology, a Pentecostal flavour - in the sense of the constant and uninhibited praising of God, giving glory to God, giving God thanks and just lifting up the name of Jesus throughout the entire weekend.
I will try, but it is hard to describe such a wonderful event in the life of the church. One really has to be there to experience the kind of total joy that the people of God have when they are
" set free" to praise God, to hear sound, bible based, challenging, relevant, contextual and inspiring teaching; to listen to the kind of music which lifts one's spirit into the very heavens with the angels and archangels; to hear stories of healing; to be quiet and contemplative as we hear the word of God and listen to music that quiets the soul before retiring to bed; to listen to a sermon from someone whose life is totally caught up with the joy and peace of an encounter with the risen Lord; to hear his story about healing in his family; and to experience healing from the mighty touch of God working through human hands.
And so on my way back early to catch the Confirmation service at church in Kingston I found myself singing, though I can't really sing:
"Stand up and praise Him if you love my Jesus
Stand and praise Him if you love my Lord".
And one of my favourite hymns and also that of my late Bishop, friend and spiritual father of blessed memory, Herman Spence came into my mind on the way. God is really a good God teaching us about learning from each other and about balance. As why else would He, in a short period of time, and I was not even thinking about those two songs, place music from two quite different traditions in my head.:
Blessed Assurance Jesus is mine:
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God;
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood
This is my story, this is my song.
Praising my Saviour all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song.
Praising my Saviour all the day long.
Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture burst on my sight;
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Saviour am happy and blessed;
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.
The Highlights of the Conference;
1. The Teaching - even though it is an Anglican production, the Conference has taken on a distinct Ecumenical flavour as , not only do members of other denominations ( Baptists, Methodists, and others) attend regularly, they participate as presenters. As was the case this year. Rev. Karl Henlin, President of the Baptist Union did three presentations; two on Saturday morning and one in the afternoon. All under the Theme; " Stories of Healing : Our Lord's and ours". The sub themes were:
a. The Healing Ministry of Jesus - an overview
b.Congregations as communities of Healing
c.Faith and Healing - What is happening here?
Take home messages for me, from the stories of healing in the bible - The Paralytic; Blind Bartimaeus; The Lepers and others.
- God made the world good, perfect, wonderful and awesome. Sin and hence the " broken-ness" of mankind and creation 'messed' up the world.
- God's plan ever since been to restore and heal and fix it back together. And so He became Incarnate - sent his Son to take on human flesh and to restore what was broken.
- Jesus did not wait for people to come to Him but He went to them
- Jesus got this message of restoration to the world in two ways.
One by telling stories. The other by dramatic events - healing. Which was more that a physical touch, but a dramatic sign, a foretaste ( that's what I remembered, why Blessed Assurance came into my mind) of the kingdom of God. So that people could see and hear God's voice speaking the abandoned, the outcast, people of " no account", and to fix up back their lives again.
-Three things marked the life of Jesus. 1. Teaching. 2. Preaching. 3. Acts of Healing - miracles
- These stories were much more than just random events in the lives of individuals, but a dramatic demonstration of God's Kingdom of wholeness and restoration, breaking into the world, giving us just a glimpse of world where there will be no more tears or sickness, where everything will be restored to it's right relationship with God - as the only source of all power and might and be worshipped for ever.
-Each act of healing then was for wholeness to return to an individual and a community and ultimately to nations. So Jesus healed the whole person in order that he or she would then go on to tell their stories to others, of the love of God, the power of God and the Compassion of God
- Therefore, congregations, where the disciples of Jesus gather for worship, and share a life together ought to be communities of healing. Where we love one another and not indulge in sins of pride and other such destructive behaviours. Where we, having been healed by God's mighty power can therefore go out and tell our stories to others - evangelism. But first healing has to take place in the community of faith - the church.
-Healing and faith is a much misunderstood issue and requires that the bible be read in context, as always and be read in the plural more - the message is not for individuals only but for the body of Christ the church-
Our faith must always be rooted in God and not in " faith". There is a profound difference. One is rooted in the purpose and will of God, and finds joys and provides hope in any circumstance, whether death or life - " Though He slay me, yet will I praise Him" - Job. The other is rooted in our strength and imagination about persistent and great prayers, an assumption that whatever we pray for " in faith", God will give us. And so when disaster strikes confusion reigns and faith in God is disturbed - not so Job and not so real Christianity. So God will sometimes provides physical and mental and emotional healing and even dramatically, but on other occasion although no such visible healing takes place, the soul is healed, to the glory of God.
2. The Sermon this morning at the Healing Service
a. Our stories need to be like those of Jesus and point to God as the only source of all power. If God can take on human flesh in Jesus Christ, then he can use anyone of us to do His divine purpose. God can strengthen us as a community of healing through grace and mercy.
b. When we tell our stories we must get rid of the doubt as the Bible says that comforter, the Holy Spirit can empower us to greater works than Jesus did.
c. We must greatly appreciate the far reaching nature of the work of Christ as he began in Palestine and his stories reached the entire world. So every time we tell our stories of the good news at home or at school, the power of God to sent these stories to far off places and touch lives is unimaginable.
d. We must tell stories of our experience with the risen Lord out of obedience to Him.
e. We must never be afraid of the cynics and the sceptics as the Holy Spirit will enable us to open doors and touch cold hearts
3. The Music - led by Rev. Grace Jervis, Antoinette Bradshaw a guest singer from a Pentecostal church who had a wonderful anointing and anointed voice and a story to tell of her " rescue " by the power of God Almighty, Harold on the keyboards and a percussion group, was simply awesome and lived up to the tradition and high expectation of the Conference. As the quality of the music has done much to enhance the worship and teaching experience.
4. The fellowship - it is difficult to describe the joy of people at one, " just praising the Lord all the daylong". But it was special and has been so for the over twenty five years that I have been attending
5. The Healing Service - over the years many persons of experienced healing of one sort or another. And they come back and tell their stories in formal and informal sessions throughout the weekend and so all of us keep coming back with an expectation and a sure hope that somehow God will find a way through the dark nights of life - even if death occurs. As one day there will be no more tears or sickness and wholeness will return to God's creation.
So we pray God that next year, more of our members, and even people from other traditions will come and see and " taste that the Lord is good". And then by God's mercy we will have less stories of death and violence and more of peace and joy. Praise the Lord. Alleluiah. Amen