Cathedral of Hope, Dallas, Texas
This is the fourth sermon in our series on healing. The first week we looked at the importance of believing that God’s ultimate will for us is health and wellness. Jesus said, “The thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy; but I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.”
The second week Rev. West talked about how hope opens us to God’s healing. Then we looked at how joy was conducive to health. A person filled with hope and joy is healthier regardless of what is happening to their bodies. Joy and hope resonating in our bodies doesn’t guarantee physical health, but makes it much more likely.
Next week’s sermon is about how our church can develop a healing ministry. I will also talk about how we can create a healing atmosphere in our relationships.
In this series I’ve tried to be clear that health is much more than not feeling bad physically. Health is a complete integration of the life of God within our lives. That doesn’t happen by accident; it is an act of faith.
Faith is the process by which we claim and integrate the life of God into our own lives. That is exactly what happened in the Gospel lesson for today. This poor woman hemorrhaged for twelve years, and physicians couldn’t cure her, but she believed if she could just touch the hem of Jesus’ robe she would be healed. And so it was, just as she believed.
Now let’s be clear about this, she wasn’t healed by Jesus’ robe. There is nothing medicinal about the hem of a robe. Jesus said that it wasn’t even him that healed her. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”
The Bible says that in Jesus was life, and the life was the light of humanity. But that is somewhat like saying in that plug over there is power to light this room. While that is true, until a lamp is plugged into the power there is no light. In Jesus there was the power of healing and life, but it was her faith that put her in touch with that power.
The Power of Faith:
Hundreds of studies have demonstrated that in about 35% of all cases placebos are as effective as medication. Over one third of all people given sugar pills or shots of distilled water recover as if they had been given powerful medication. What that says is that faith, even in something that isn’t real has the power to heal. Imagine the power of faith in the God of creation.
Now there is a negative side to the power of faith as well. Thirteen Japanese high school boys were exposed to a plant they were told was similar to poison ivy. All thirteen of the boys demonstrated some degree of dermatitis like itching, blisters, swelling or redness. The plant was actually completely harmless. Thirteen other boys were told that they were being brushed by a harmless plant that was in fact poisonous. Eleven of the thirteen boys showed no reaction at all.
They did not react to what the plants were, but to what they believed they were. Jesus said, “According to your faith it will be done.” That is an incredibly powerful statement of a principle about life that can work for us or against us.
In the mid-50s, a new surgical procedure was introduced to provide relief from symptoms of chest pain due to coronary disease. The procedure called “internal mammary legation” involved tying off an artery in the chest. One out of three patients reported complete relief of pain, while three out of four reported substantial improvement. Ten thousand operations followed.
Some surgeons were skeptical about the procedure because it seemed physiologically unsound. They performed a study that today would be considered unethical. They recruited seventeen patients severely limited by angina. On half of them the surgery was performed, and with the other half the only thing the surgeons did was make an incision that gave the illusion the surgery had been performed.
Both groups responded the same. One out of three reported complete relief, and three-quarters of both groups reported substantial improvement. It wasn’t the surgery, it was the patient’s faith in the surgery or the surgeon. Imagine if we could put that kind of faith in Jesus.
Dr. Bernard Lown, a professor of cardiology at Harvard, tells a story of when he was a medical student. He examined a woman who was middle-aged and apparently in the beginning stages of congestive heart failure. The supervising physician announced to the other students, “This woman has TS.”
They’d hardly walked out before the woman began breathing rapidly, became drenched in perspiration, and had a pulse rate of over 150 beats a minute. By the time Dr. Lown returned to the room her lungs had an accumulation of fluid.
He asked the woman, who was clearly distraught, what was wrong. She explained that she knew TS meant “terminal situation”. Dr. Lown tried to reassure her that such was not the case. In fact TS meant “tricuspid stenosis” which was a narrowing of the tricuspid heart valve, and she wasn’t terminal at all. Despite what Dr. Lown said, or what the truth was, by midnight the woman died.
“According to her faith, be it was done unto her.” Faith is incredibly powerful. It can release the very power of life, the power of God, in our lives. Or it can empower the Thief of life.
Faith isn’t magic. It is a principle of life like gravity, or thermodynamics, but we know less about it. The apostle Paul had what he called a “thorn in the flesh”, but despite praying for God to deliver him Paul learned that God’s grace was sufficient. In other words, his faith didn’t release the power of God to heal him, but it did release the power of God to see him through.
The people who live longest and the people who live best choose carefully the object of their faith.
- Some people put their faith in stocks or bonds or savings. Whether or not they are healthy financially depends a good deal on what happens to the economy. Spiritually healthy people put their financial faith in God. For the Bible says, “God shall supply all of your needs. . . .”
- Some people put their faith in their own strength or power to overcome obstacles. They are confident their stubbornness and strength of will can triumph and so they never ask for help or depend on anyone but themselves. But no one is that strong, and the spiritually healthy person says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
- People put faith in everything from crystals to chemotherapy. There is only One we can really trust with our lives; that is the One who gave life to us in the first place. That is something that this woman who had hemorrhaged for 12 years realized. She believed she could be healed if she could make contact with the One who was the source of faith itself.
Now I can’t promise you that if you have enough faith in God you will be physically healed, but I do believe your faith has incredible power to heal. The one thing I can promise you is this: Trusting the God of Jesus Christ can and will make you a healthier person.
On the other hand believing in our fears, our doubts, or our disease empowers those things to drain life from us. That’s why I hate the term PWA. When a person who is HIV positive begins to identify himself or herself with a disease they have given that disease incredible power.
How many of you have ever seen an HIV virus? Have you ever smelled one or held one or heard one? Me either. Now I am not suggesting that the HIV virus doesn’t exist. What I am saying is that there is another force in this world that you may have never seen or held, but that deserves your faith. That force is God.
The woman that was bleeding discovered that her faith could release a force more powerful than her disease.
Did you hear about the little boy whose mother was a pastor, and she was always after him to say his prayers? She was also a woman who believed that cleanliness was next to godliness.
It seemed that at every meal she sent him to wash his hands two or three times before he got them clean. One night as she sent him back for the second time she said to him, “I’m not going to have you eating with those hands still covered with germs.” So back he went muttering to himself, “Germs and Jesus, germs and Jesus, that’s all you ever hear around here, and you can’t see either of them.”
It is true you can’t see Jesus or germs with your eyes, but sometimes I wonder if we don’t expect more hurt from germs than we expect health from Jesus.
I can’t say how this should work in your life, but I can tell you how it works in mine. Years ago I decided not to put my faith in germs or viruses. After all I’ve never seen one so why should I trust them to decide how I feel?
As a result I haven’t had a cold in thirty years, and I’ve never had the flu. Time and time again viruses go around the office, but I don’t catch them because I don’t trust them to decide how I’m going to feel.
Now, I realize that is a severe over simplification of the phenomena of health. But what I am advocating is that we take back some of our power. Like the woman with a hemorrhage we should trust the One who came to bring us life. And we should lock the door of our heart against the one Jesus called a thief.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am NOT suggesting that if you are sick you did something wrong. I am not suggesting that if you haven’t been healed you don’t have enough faith.
All I am suggesting is that if, like this bleeding woman, we reach out our hand in faith we just may be healed. The worst that could happen is that we find that God’s grace is sufficient to see us through. It is a gamble, but why not gamble on the good? Why not gamble on life rather than death, on health rather than disease?
The Bible says that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for”. If that is the case we must say to our soul what the Psalmist said, “Hope thou in God.”
Robert Reeves, a clinical chaplain, observed the role of faith in how patients recovered. In an article entitled “Healing and Salvation: A Clinical View”. He reported his findings. His study showed that patients who coped well were optimistic about the outcome of the surgery, and confident that whatever happened would work out. They were positive, open and friendly and were able to graciously accept the help of others.
Chaplain Reeves discovered that the correlation between an attitude of expectant trust and the speed of recovery was very high. He wrote:
If patients used their faith as a source of strength to face reality and deal with it constructively, they were rapid healers. If they used their faith to hide from reality or to try to manipulate God because they didn’t trust the outcome, they were much slower recovering. Those who accepted their negative circumstance but trusted God for a positive outcome, healed quickly. Those who were angry and felt life was unfair and they were a victim healed much more poorly, if they healed at all.
When you close your eyes is it easier to see an image of a bright and glorious future that has been promised to you as a child of God; or is it easier to picture all of the awful things that might happen to you? Which is more powerful in your life hope or dread? Joy or discouragement? Faith or fear?
You alone have the power to decide who you will trust:
The positive or the negative?
Your hopes or your fears?
Health or disease?
Jesus or the thief?
Well, according to your faith be it done unto you.
Currently serving as pastor of Broadway UCC in New York City, Rev. Michael S. Piazza is a Georgia native who has also served as pastor of churches in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and Connecticut, as well as serving as senior pastor of Virginia-Highland Church in Atlanta before serving as senior pastor and dean of the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Valdosta (Ga.) State University and an M.Div. from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. His books include Liberating the Gospel, Liberating Word, A Daily Reflection for Liberals, Volume One: The First Testament, Gay by God: How to be Lesbian or Gay and Christian (formerly Holy Homosexuals), Queeries: Questions Lesbians and Gays have for God, The Real antiChrist: How America Sold its Soul, Prophetic Renewal: Hope for the Liberal Church, Vital Vintage Church, Fishing in a Shallow Sea and, with Rev. Cameron Trimble, Liberating Hope: Daring to Renew the Mainline Church.