Epistle Lesson: James 5:13-16
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1:40-45
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
Today we have just finished the first chapter of Mark. Over the past 4 weeks we have been working our way through this first chapter. And within these first 45 verses of the Gospel of Mark, we have witnessed Jesus in three very different settings healing. The first healing that took place was that in a religious setting, within the confines of the Synagogue there in Capernaum with a man who was possessed with a demon. The next setting which we spoke about last week was that of Peter’s mother in law in their private home, who dealt with not a spiritual healing, but a physical healing of a fever. And now we come to Jesus in a third setting, that of being out in the country side. A healing that was of a physical ailment, but one that had religious and social implications. A man who has leprosy is one who was deemed unclean by the priests and as such is one who cannot attend upon the religious rights of a clean man. He cannot enter into the synagogue and offer up their prayers, but neither were they permitted to even be in the towns or in contact with any other person who is a Jew. This illness literally cuts those people off from the community in which they had grown up in, from their own families, and from God.
But this does not remain so for this one leper who had stumbled upon Jesus. The narrator of this story does not tell us how this leper knew who Jesus was, or even how it was that this leper came to find Jesus. But it does say that this leper comes to Jesus begging him, kneeling before him, humbled before Jesus and simply professes with great faith, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” In this time and age, the only people who could deem someone clean was that of a priest. Not even a physician had that authority, but only the priest. But this man recognized Jesus for who he truly was, and that was of a High Priest.
Jesus responds to this man as the scriptures says, “Jesus was moved with pity.” This word ‘pity’ I don’t think signifies the fullness of the word that is used here in the Greek. The word pity in our English language today often means to be sorry for, or felt sorry for the man. But this is not the feeling that Jesus had according to the Greek. “The compassion of Jesus is no sentimental pity for this poor man. His compassion compels Jesus to reach across the boundary of disease to touch an untouchable, violating Jewish law, and in the process make himself an untouchable, ritually unclean.” That is no simple pity, but a deep deep compassion for the livelihood of this individual. It is a compassion that we feel when we see a scene of someone who is malnourished seeking food for their families from dumpsters or a compassion we may feel when every hair on our body is on end when we come face to face with those who struggle against the evils of this world. Jesus is compelled to touch the unclean, to heal the broken. All throughout Jesus’ ministry we have signs, miracles, whatever you want to call them of Jesus’ healing. These signs are not only done by Jesus, but also by his followers as well. Jesus told his disciples that they would do the things that Christ himself has done, and even greater things than these. And throughout our scriptures and our history as a church, we have. All throughout Acts we have Peter, Paul, and all the apostles healing many. Throughout our history as a church we have witnessed miraculous healings of body, spirit, and mind. From our Epistle lesson today, we are asked, “Are there any among you who are sick? Or suffering? We are told to call upon the elders of the church to anoint with olive oil in the name of the Lord. We are instructed to confess our sins, praying for one another, and receive the healing of our Lord. This scripture brings about often many questions about our belief in oil, anointing, and healing. I intend to begin to look at some of these questions as Jesus was often called a healer, as also are those who have followed him.
Let’s begin with talking about anointing and oil. Oil throughout the Old and New Testament is often listed among the basic necessities of human life. In the Apocrypha writing of Sirach it most plainly states, “The basic necessities of human life are water and fire and iron and salt and wheat-flour and milk and honey, the blood of the grape and olive oil and clothing.” Although Sirach is not a part of our canon or the scriptures by which we call holy, it is an insight into the mindset of the Jewish people during the times in between the Old and New Testaments. So what about oil is so important to call it a basic necessity? I mean we in the states don’t use oil very much unless of course you are talking about good deep fried chicken from Bojangles. Well, oil was used firstly and rightly as food. Still today in much of the Middle East, the oil from the olive tree is incorporated into just about every meal. It was not uncommon for me while in Palestine/Israel to sit down at all at every meal and before me was Pita bread unlike any other I have had here in the States and bowls of olive oil mixed with some hummus. Another use of this oil was used in lighting lamps; a symbol in itself that often is used throughout our New Testament scriptures to represent the “Light” of Christ or the presence of God. Even today in our worship we brought in the light of Christ as a symbol for our worship of the presence of the Spirit that is with us. Oil was in that time the only source by which that light so shined. It was not only custom but a command in Exodus that the purest olive oil be used within the house of the synagogues to light the candles and other sacred purposes. Oil was also used for medicinal purposes as well. It was often accompanied with other treatments, but often was rubbed on sores and open wounds for healing purposes. Ultimately as we use oil in our worship and in anointing, we do not believe there are super magical powers within the oil, but rather it is a symbol by which God uses to mark the presence of the Spirit upon that person. Oil has always brought with it a connotation of God’s blessing and spirit to be upon that person as it was custom for a prophets, priests, and even Kings to be anointed with oil as a symbol of God’s spirit to be placed on that person, hence the reason why oil is so often used in the act of healing; for God is the Great Physician and no healing happens without the presence of God.
The act of healing is another practice that in our post-enlightenment world that is often questioned, but has roots that are deep within the Christian tradition and even within our Methodist Heritage. Although there are some words that certainly need defining as we look to being a people who claim healing and being healers. I believe that the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, an archbishop of Chicago in his last months give eloquent witness to what we mean by “healing”. In his late months, Archbishop Bernardin was a chaplain to cancer patients as he himself was terminally ill. He says, “No one walked away ‘cured’ from the two to four communal anointing of the sick he participated in daily. But many walked away ‘healed’. This goes to show us that when we speak of healing, we do not necessarily mean curing. Sometimes it may mean such a thing, but not always. I use this example to show that there are a multitude of types of healings. There are emotional healings, spiritual healings, physical healings, and even healings of relationships. Also throughout the scriptures, we have references to both healings of individuals and of large groups of people, whether an institution or a nation. There is a brokenness that continues to surround our broken world and we are to be used as agents to share that healing that is offered in Christ Jesus. John Wesley in our own Methodist tradition was a large advocate that God desires for us to be healed fully: bodily, spiritually, mindfully, emotionally, and even relationally. Wesley was such a large advocate for health that he highlighted often two works that should be in every house: 1) his excerpt of Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, which Wesley valued as a guide to spiritual health; and 2) the Primitive Physick, which Wesley had prepared as a guide to physical health. This Primitive Physick although quite humorous in some of his remedies, has great value in Wesley’s earnest desire for us to be in full health as God designed for us to be. I say quite humorous as some of his remedies include even a remedy to hair loss. If anyone is interested it was Wesley’s suggestion to take an onion and cut it in two, and rub the onion on the head so as to stimulate the hair to grow. But not all of Wesley’s remedies were what we think of as silly today. For instance, Wesley promoted good health by drinking plenty of water, and eating more vegetables and less meat, exercising daily for at least an hour between the hours of breakfast and dinner, resting neither too little nor too much. “When Wesley left home for school, his father distilled his health advice into one maxim: ‘Fail not, on any account whatever, to walk an hour every day.’
You see, Wesley understood that diabolical or contrasting relationship between that of body and soul. In the understanding of Wesley’s sacramental theology, there is an understanding that God uses the outer physical to impact and change the inner spiritual. An example of this sacramental understanding can be seen in Wesley’s understanding of Communion: the way the outer physical elements of communion give an inner spiritual divine grace. Our bodies can and do affect our spiritual self and vice versa. When we come for healing, it does not necessary mean a curing of an illness or disease, but it may just mean a healing of our spiritual life as well. John Wesley also understood healing to be closely associated if not interchangeable with the word Salvation. Wesley is quoted when speaking about salvation in this way: “By salvation I mean, not barely (according to the vulgar notion) deliverance from hell, or going to heaven, but a present deliverance from sin, a restoration of the soul to its primitive health . . . the renewal of our souls after the image of God in righteousness and true holiness, in justice, mercy, and truth.”  Wesley understood salvation to be a healing from our present condition, that condition being sin. This is why often throughout our scriptures and in our history as a church healing always comes after a period of confession. It is a renewal and associated often with repentance. As I thought very hard about this sermon, and what I was going to say this week, I came up with a few questions for us as a church and as individuals to ponder. What spiritual sins have we committed that we are in need to confess? What sins have been committed against us that we at Red Valley are in need of healing, and what is standing in our way of receiving that healing? And finally, are we able and ready to accept the grace and responsibility of being a church of healing, of reconciling, and of bringing about wholeness to the lives of our community? Later in our service today we will have the opportunity to come forward for an anointing. But let us, as commanded in our Epistle from James come before God and each other as we pray.
 Karris, Robert J. 2000. “Some new angles on James 5:13-20.” Review & Expositor 97, no. 2: 207-219. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 9, 2012). 211
 Maddox, Randy. 2007. “John Wesley on Holistic Health and Healing.” Methodist History 46, no. 1: 4-33. 8
 Maddox, Randy. 2007. “John Wesley on Holistic Health and Healing.” Methodist History 46, no. 1: 4-33. 20
 Maddox, Randy. 2007. “John Wesley on Holistic Health and Healing.” Methodist History 46, no. 1: 4-33. 7