The Christian who goes to visit the sick, those in crisis, perhaps in a hospital room, perhaps next door or across the street, goes with three things in mind.
We go to:
1.) Be “with” the person. Another way to say this is we go to “be present” with the person. In so doing we extend the presence of Christ. I cannot emphasize enough that is a social sacramental practice. In the relationship of listening, which includes the gift of response but is primarily listening (being careful never to speak too much or offer quick solutions), Jesus is present. We are the means by which Jesus presence is extended. This is what the King means when he tells those who are “with” the least of these (the sick etc), “you were with me.” But we did not see you? Nonetheless that was me there! And that was the Kingdom. Those who rejected this, were rejecting the Kingdom. (Matt 25:31-46). And so likewise, we go to be “with” the sick, submitting to what He is doing here in this sickness or physical crisis. We go to be witnesses to what He is teaching and doing.
2.) To proclaim the gospel. We may not preach the gospel in the hospital room like from a pulpit or something, but at the appropriate time, when there is an opening, a prompting of the Spirit, we offer to read a text, a simple text which grounds us in the reality that Jesus is Lord. This text helps center us, both the sick person and the one reading, into the reality that Jesus is Lord here. This too extends the presence of Christ into our midst (Luke 10:16). Even the most mature of Christians need some else (besides themselves) to proclaim the gospel in the midst of a health crisis. Some of my favorite texts? Isa 53: 5; Ps 103; Matt 9; Rom 8:18-27.
3.) To pray (for the Kingdom). If the sick person, or those around the sick person, are willing and able, the time may arrive (upon discernment) to “submit” together in prayer to the Lordship of Christ for the body’s illness. Here also the very presence of Christ is extended by the Spirit. The key questions are, “do you have faith, can you trust your body into God’s care, His rule?” “Is there anything in your life God is seeking to do through this illness?” “Is there any rebellion in your life against the work of the Spirit?” The ancient right of unction, the pouring of oil and laying on of hands, then symbolizes the sacrament of God’s Kingdom coming by the Holy Spirit in a special way over this body. We are in essence extending the Kingdom. We are submitting this person and his or her body to the Kingdom and the authority of her Lord. It is an intense time of spiritual formation and it opens the pathway to healing. We cannot rush this in my opinion. Mark 9:29 expresses Jesus’ frustration with the disciples who had not yet learned that the power to heal is not theirs, it is God’s and can only be submitted to in His reign.
There is no guarantee that immediate physical healing will always come. I believe though, healed or not, if we followed this sacrament, in which we submit, not control (as some faith healers have IMO) we would see healings and no one (physically healed or not) would be left untouched by the Kingdom in their suffering.
I contend strongly, we must teach our congregations how to go and visit the sick. This is a mission field. Hospitals, neighborhoods, those sleeping under the bridges. In each case however it begins with step no. 1 “withness” and the discernment of the Kingdom. It starts with leaders and spreads into the neighborhoods. I believe we’ve lost this sacred practice that goes back to Jesus himself and passed on through the church. (I think the domesticating of Unction by Christendom church had something to do with this).
What about you? Do you see the possibilities of mission in the healing of the sick? What are the pitfalls? What are the hurdles to leading a community into these practices? Do we even practice this among our selves within a congregation? If not, why not? This is the Kingdom!! What are your experiences?
Blessings as we extend the Kingdom together into the world.
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