Sunday, September 17, 2023
The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Forgiveness and Healing
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
This morning we are going to restart a healing ministry that this church had quite a few years ago. Shirley brought this up to me and I quickly discovered that we already have several people who have been involved in healing ministries. I thought this a good time as we begin the new program year and the lectionary gave me the perfect opening to do some teaching on the subject.
What, you may ask, does our gospel have to do with healing, well quite a bit. You see healing ministries deal with more than just physical illness. Healing prayer for a physical illness is where most people start and also stop in requests for healing prayer. There are prayers for healing of memories possibly from trauma of some sort. Intercessory prayers where you are asking prayers for another person. You can ask the healer to pray for another person through you. Prayers of thanksgiving for a healing received. Prayers for strength to face a challenge that may present itself to you. Often prayers to heal a relationship with another arise. That is where we enter today’s passage.
Forgiveness is critically important to our mental health. I was approached by a group that runs a grief program connected with hospice that is in Sugarland but there isn’t a group here in Katy. They are looking for a place to meet. Emma Zone saw it on a Katy moms group on Facebook and suggested they contact St. Paul’s. First of all great job Emma, turning this Facebook post into a ministry opportunity. I met with them and we are going to look into how to offer this at St. Paul’s.
Now I wanted to be sure of the underlying theology of the program and was asking about what they taught, thought and believed. I’m happy to open our church to outside groups but they must align with the basic tenants of the Episcopal Church and be in line with our mission and vision. I found they had a lot in common with this program in how I approach grief work.
In looking at the material they use in helping people heal in their grief an entire session is focused on forgiveness. Now I said a moment ago that forgiveness is critical to our mental health. I will start with a phrase you may have heard and that is that “holding a grudge, not being willing to forgive another is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” You are only harming yourself. In fact, by holding a grudge you are giving the power in the relationship to the other person! Now that’s not just good theology but it is great psychological advice as well.
If a relationship between two people is broken (and that is our definition of sin) then someone needs to make the first step. Now last week we had the lesson about what to do with a person where there is a problem, a fault, a sin. Talk to them alone in private. If that doesn’t work try again with a couple of people, if that doesn’t work take it to the church and if that doesn’t work treat them as Gentiles or tax collectors. Then I reminded you all about how Jesus treated tax collectors and Gentiles, he invited them into his circle. Jesus told us to keep trying. Peter as usual must ask the question that everybody is thinking, how many times to I have to forgive, 7 times? And Jesus answers basically you constantly must forgive.
Our church believes forgiveness is so important that it is included in our Reconciliation of a Penitent Service. This is private one on one confession with a priest. It’s in the prayer book under pastoral services. Now there are two forms. I often use the second one because that one asks you not to just ask for forgiveness for what you may have done, but also requires you to forgive others. This is a powerful service and a powerful action. I have had numerous people tell me that they feel like a great weight has been lifted off of them. I can attest to that for I have done this service myself several times and one time it was the forgiveness piece that was messing up my spiritual growth. This is just one type of healing and I want to talk about healing in general.
The healing ministry disappeared from the church sometime during the Enlightenment and I can do an entire lecture on why it disappeared. It only really returned to the Episcopal and other mainline churches in the middle of the 1900s. The Pentecostal churches started to revive it in the 1920s and many in mainline churches were not interested. This is not magic, this is not something we do in place of medical procedures but prayer that works with you and your medical team in terms of physical illness. Working with doctors is a basic tenant of the Order of St. Luke, a healing order of the Episcopal Church of which I have been a member. Healing is especially helpful in times of stress from any source.
What can you ask for? Well just about anything although I don’t think even they can help you win the lottery. Many people ask for prayer for healing for something that is bothering them. You can ask for prayers if you have an important doctor appointment or a procedure coming up. You can ask for intercessory prayers for a family member or friend. Prayers for something other than a physical healing like not having energy or a concern over an important decision. You may ask for anything that is truly on your heart that you want to express to God and have prayer for.
I have set up a small prayer station in the back corner of the church with an icon and a kneeling bench along with a table where we will having blessed oil for anointing. We plan to add a small shelf and a couple candles.
If after receiving communion today, you would like to receive healing prayer from a member of our prayer team go back there after taking communion. Let them know what you want prayer for and they will take it from there. If you want to kneel for the laying on of hands use the prayer desk. If you want to stand or kneeling is a problem that is fine just approach the healing team. Now if you are seated in the back and want to get prayers before you come up for communion that is fine as well. This is a first attempt and we many need a couple times to work out the kinks.
A word about the people who have volunteered. Our team is Mary Brimer, Shirley Siems, Barbara Cloud and Jo Gustin. Most have been involved in healing prayer ministries, either in our parish or another parish. I have met with all of them and reviewed what I expect from them. Whatever you ask for will be confidential. They will not share it even with me unless you give them permission. If you just want to tell them, “I need prayers” then they will do a general prayer for you.
At the moment we will be offering this formally every third Sunday however if you want prayer at another time, you can always ask one of them or ask me and we can pray before or after the service. I think it is especially important to ask for prayers before any surgery. If you let me know in advance, I can meet you at the hospital or we can meet the day before here at the church. The prayer team and Rachel Adcock the head of the altar guild suggested we establish this prayer station and I want to use and not just on the third Sunday.
I have been involved in healing ministries since early in my time in the Episcopal Church. The laying on of hands is something that Covid certainly effected and in our case delayed. But Shirley came up to me this summer and said that she wanted to get this restarted and I said, “Absolutely lets do this.” I’ve wanted to get this started and Shirley provided the nudge from God I needed, so thank you to Shirley. I hope we can grow this into a significant pastoral ministry here at St. Paul’s.