2 Kings 5:1-15a; Mark 1:40-45

This evening I get to take my beeper back to the hospital after a week on call as chaplain and another week as the backup. Wearing my religious badge (in or out of the hospital) gives me a special kind of access to people, and it also gives me a certain kind of request, over and over: pray for my healing. From this heart disease, from this cancer, from the surgery that gave me a new knee. It makes a person wonder just what it means to pray for healing. Am I trying to influence a process that is profoundly out of my hands? To work magic for people? To hope against hope, knowing that the healing we’re looking for doesn’t always happen?Am I just saying nice words and giving false comfort in the face of fear and confusion?

All I really know is that I’m called to pray, for healing as well as for all sorts of other things. Not just that I’m called on, which would be a natural side effect of the work I do, but that something beyond my understanding compels me to offer prayers for people’s healing. Something beyond my understanding challenged me to invite us all to pray for healing a little later in this service. And I suspect that something happens in this, that something will happen here today, when we pray.

I’ll invite you to let the Deacons lay their hands on you, just like we laid our hands on Janice’s head and shoulders to install her to another term. Jesus was a hands-on healer, as we saw in the Gospel reading today. Time after time, he puts his hands on someone to free them from disease, isolation, and hopelessness. Perhaps energy transfers from one person to the other, as in Reiki treatments; I have to say that being a parent has taken away the rest of my skepticism about the basic restorative power of loving touch. In a hospital, touch can transform someone’s experience. So much of being ill is about being isolated from normal touch and subjected instead to all kinds of invasive procedures. A non-invasive touch can restore a person’s humanity. If nothing else, this touch leaves a sensory memory of having been prayed for; we live and pray with our bodies as much as our minds and words.

It’s maybe a little trickier to see “hands-on” healing in the Old Testament reading, where the prophet Elisha doesn’t even bother to come out and see the great general. Instead, he leaves it for God to take care of. (This is, after all, a nationalistic story of how our invisible God is better than the neighbors’ statues and magic tricks.) But look at how God heals Naaman: by having him dip seven times in the Jordan river, just like the people of Israel had to pass through the river to come into their home as God’s people. Just like Jesus was immersed in the Jordan river when John baptized him. That’s what it is. Elisha orders Naaman to be baptized, to let God wrap him up in the waters of new life, to be claimed forever by God’s love. If we read on, we see that’s exactly what happens.

The symbol of baptism today is the oil of anointing. We can place that on your forehead, or on your wrist or ankle or wherever is appropriate for the healing we’re talking about. It’s a testimony that the Spirit of God is the real healer here, not our oil or our hands or anything else. God works through all kinds of mechanisms, but our health is ultimately something God gives us.

When we pray for healing, I think a big piece of what we’re doing is to open ourselves to what God is already doing. If today’s stories tell us anything, it’s that God truly wants to heal us. God goes well out of his way to make it happen. This can call for changes in us, as it did when Naaman had to follow his servants’ leadership, and so in prayer we put ourselves in line with what we trust is God’s desire already. We trust that healing is what God is up to, whatever precisely that healing may look like.

I think we often don’t know what healing will look like. We have our ideas, but I always hope for the humility to trust instead what God sees as greatest health in our lives. That can look like my grandfather, who is healthier now after years of watching his diet than he was before his heart attack. It can look like a family coming together in the wake of a traumatic death. It can look like the softened heart of someone making amends after they’re diagnosed with a chronic illness. It can even look like the spontaneous cure of a disease, as has happened among people in this very room.

We have a chance to pray for healing now, for ourselves or for others. You can feel hands laid on you, receive the oil, and seek to trust what God is up to. I invite you to look deep and ask what you’re really seeking. And I challenge you to trust that God wants to make this healing real; God wants us to be whole.