Monday, 21 October 2013

The Church as a Hospital

Today we remember Saint Luke. Saint Paul refers to him in his letters as “the beloved physician”, which is why he is connected to healing. We know him best for his early biography of Jesus in the “Gospel of Luke”, and the second half of that work, which is the “Acts of the Apostles”” where Luke describes the early growth of the church.  Being a physician, and being the author of texts that contain the teachings of Christ do not contradict. They are both aiming at health and restoration.  
            It has been said that the church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners. The church is concerned about the ultimate and eternal health of human beings. The Church is not primarily concerned with making people behave morally, though that is a part of what happens as we are healed. The church is not primarily a philosophy club where those with similar ideas and worldviews gather together. The church does have a way of looking at the world, but this is not the goal of the church. The Church is a hospital.    
            We are told that the world was not meant to be this way. We read the papers, or watch the news, and we look into our own lives and they are stained with brokenness, disease, war, sickness, and death. In the beginning, we are told, God created human beings absolutely healthy. They were filled with love for their creator, love for one another, and love for all creation.  Through their own choice, they turned from God and forgot who they were created to be so that now human beings are characterized by confusion, destructive desires, and brokenness. What we have come to know as normal, is not the way it was meant to be.[1] 
We are also told that since the day human beings allowed brokenness onto the world God has been working to repair it. Since that day God has been working to bring us back to a state of health where all parts of our lives are brought under His care and desire- Body, mind, spirit, relationships, emotions, finances, our relationship to the rest of creation.  
God may use numerous means to bring us healing- prayer, nutrition, exercise, counseling, medication, Bible study, surgery, meditation, sleep, our numerous other means. Ultimately it is God who is using all these means to bring us healing (Ex. 15:26).
            This is why Jesus came to us. Jesus is the ultimate physician of our souls and bodies. Our healing comes as we enter the kingdom of God, which is here and is continuously growing. As signs of that kingdom of healing and peace Jesus shows us miracles. We read in Matthew (9:35) that “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity.” Jesus in his compassion and mercy is about healing the entire person, body, mind, spirit, and social relationships. Jesus’ ultimate goal to heal the relationship between the world and God. Jesus’ physical healings foreshadow that great healing, which is God’s desire for creation.
In Jesus we see humanity as it was meant to be- he is the fully healed human being. This is God’s desire for us as well. As followers of Jesus the church is meant to be an instrument of God, brought into being to help heal the split between us and God. The church, as a hospital, receives the broken, fallen, sick, and confused human beings, and through a variety of methods working with the presence of the Holy Spirit, helps them to begin the process of becoming healthy.  In the church we are trained to take on the life of Christ. In repentance we admit our brokenness and we learn to follow the teachings of Jesus. Jesus himself, his actions on the cross, and the way he taught us is God’s medicine to heal us.   
The proof of this medicine is the lives of the saints who manifest the healing of God most clearly. They have followed the way Christ has taught us and they have exchanged their symptoms of hostility, jealousy, anger, idolatry, murder, and adultery, …. for the Fruits of the Spirit “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).
As followers of Jesus we are charged with the task of sharing this medicine. The theologian Paul Meyendorff says “we are Christ’s presence in the world, and we, as the Church are charged with bringing healing to those around us”. …  Healing lies at the center of the church’s service to the world.    In the books of Acts Jesus’ Apostles continue to be surrounded by healing as a sign of God’s Kingdom (Acts 9:32-43).  God uses the church as the body of Christ to heal, but that doesn’t always mean physical healing. Sometimes physical healing happens in God’s mercy and as a sign of the greater healing to come, but this is a mystery. St. Paul had a thorn in his flesh that was not healed, but nevertheless we are told to pray for each other.  James 5:14 says “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.”
 Paul Meyendorff says, “the very purpose of the Church is to heal us, to restore the rift between God and humanity which is caused by our sin and leads to death. This is achieved precisely when we are united to one another and to God in the body of Christ, which is the church”… “Jesus Christ is here asking for nothing less than the healing of the whole world, all humanity, all creation. This is achieved when we come to know Christ, when we become one with him and with one another. Everything that the church does, all its sacramental and liturgical life, all its teaching, is directed at restoring the proper relationship between God and creation, which has been corrupted through our sinfulness. This is the real meaning of Christian healing, and it involves the whole person, body, soul, and spirit.”[2]
Baptism is our entry into the church. In baptism, we enter into a new relationship with God, and are joined with Christ. Meyendorf tells us that in this new relationship “sin, sickness, and death no longer dominate us. We become children of God, heirs of the kingdom, members of Christ’s body, the Church. This new relationship is to endure for ever, and neither sickness nor death can destroy it”.[3]
Baptism is the ultimate sacrament of healing and is aimed at the whole person, body, soul, and spirit.  Hear this Eastern Orthodox prayer over the baptismal waters: “Therefore O loving King, come now and sanctify this water by the indwelling of your holy spirit, and grant to it the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan; make it the fountain of incorruption, the gift of sanctification, the remission of sins, the remedy of infirmities…  Master of all, show this water to be the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, the purification of flesh and spirit, the loosing of bonds, the remission of sins, the illumination of the soul, the washing of regeneration, the renewal of the spirit, the gift of adoption to sonship, the garment of incorruption, the fountain of life …”[4]  That is the healing God wants for us.
            We will still deal with sickness until the fullness of God’s Kingdom is here. Meyendorff says,
“In this new life, sickness and death no longer have the same power over us, for they have been defeated. Sickness and death continue to exist, but they now mark not the end of our existence, but a transition to eternal life, a passage into the kingdom. Just as Christ himself died and rose again, so we too shall die and rise. In Christ, our ultimate defeat is transformed into victory!”[5]
            Baptism as our entry into the church is really at its core about healing. It is about healing our relationship with God. When that is restored health begins to happen in all other areas as well. Baptism is primarily a healing sacrament. In Baptism we are set on the path of restoration and wholeness. “The sickness and death which once ruled our lives are defeated, in the sense that they, just like the cross, become a means of victory and a passage into the kingdom”.[6]
            The Church is a hospital for the broken. It is the instrument of God for healing the world body-mind-and soul. So may you embrace your baptism and the healing that began on the day you were baptized.  

[1] Kyriacos Markides, Gifts of the Desert, p.86-97
[2] Paul Meyendorff, The Anointing of the Sick, p.19
[3] Meyendorff p20
[4] Meyendorff P21
[5]Meyendorff P21
[6]Meyendorff P23

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