Healing Spirit

Healing Spirit

The Holy Spirit and the Church: Healing Spirit
Bible Reading: Acts 3:1-11
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain

In this period between Easter and Pentecost, we are exploring the way the Holy Spirit works within the church – both the Early Church as told in the book of Acts and our own church here at TUC. This week our reading is the familiar story of Peter and John healing a lame man at the temple and it raises a number of interesting questions – such as it is clear that the Spirit was moving and healing in the early church … so what does the Healing Spirit mean for us today? We will also be exploring how Peter and John used this experience to speak with the gathered community about Jesus … to become explainers to the divine. What does it mean for our church to be the “local theologians” and help our local community understand a faith perspective on issues?

As Kevin explain last week, in the lead up to Pentecost (and maybe even a few weeks after Pentecost), we are looking at the book of Acts and some of Paul’s letters to see how the Holy Spirit helped guide, empower and transform the Early Church.  This series will be both us pondering and reflecting on the way we do church but hopefully also some really practical ideas on how we can tap into the Holy Spirit as we be church here at Turramurra..

Last week we read from Acts chapter 1 how Jesus passed on his ministry to the disciples and other followers of Jesus – and how he promised the Holy Spirit would help them in that. 

We have skipped over Acts chapter 2 (because we will read it in a few weeks time at Pentecost) … but before we jump into chapter 3 … we have put it in the context of Chapter 2.   The Spirit did indeed come at Pentecost and changed everything.  This small community of Jesus followers started to grow and would spend their days listening to the apostles teaching, breaking bread together and praying.  They built this beautiful community where people were included, and ate together, cared for each other and everyone’s needs were met. 

Our reading is from Acts chapter 3.  It is in the weeks after Pentecost and it is almost like things have settled down … and maybe even gone back to normal.  Peter and John were going to the temple for the traditional afternoon Jewish prayers.  This is normal.  And at the gates of the temple there is a crippled man asking for alms … which is very normal – happened all the time.  But then things start to head into the realms of – not normal.

Ok looking at this passage, I want you to consider three questions …

  1. Verse 4 – is there any significance in Peter and John looking directly at the man and asking him to look at them?  Why did Luke mention this detail?
  • Verse 6 – is there any significance in Peter using the phrase “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth… ”?
  • Verse 7 – Noting verse 2 (he had been lame since birth) and Acts 4:22 (that he was now 40 years old) … what is amazing about the line “instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong”?

Have a ponder in your seat … or chat with the people around you.  What are your thoughts on any of these questions.


Significance of Peter & John looking at him

  • 1st century Palestine was an honour/shame culture.
    It was shameful to beg and therefore you would not look at people when you were asking for money. 
  • Peter and John were giving value and honour to the man by looking at him.  Getting him to look at them made them equals.  (Also reflected in the line “Taking him by the hand”
  • Very personal, pastoral, loving act.

Significance of “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth…”

  • Not magic words that bring healing…
  • Peter wanted to highlight it was Jesus who heals, not them
  • We are just continuing the work of Jesus.

Significance of “instantly the mans feet and ankles”

  • Muscles wither if they are not used.  After 40 years of not being used – this mans leg and feet muscles would have been nothing … making it impossible for him to stand.
  • It was not just him walking and leaping and praising God … this would have been a physical healing of muscle before their eyes.

No wonder the man praised God.

No wonder those present were filled wonder and amazement.

But how does this passage about the Early church from Acts  teach us how the spirit helped in the church? 

I promised that this series would be practical … so what can this reading teach us or challenge us about how the Spirit can specifically work in our church here at Turramurra?  Or in our own lives today? 

I have two ideas / challenges / ways … and the first is an obvious and yet difficult and challenging one … lets talk about healing:

  1. The Spirit brought healing / can bring healing.

Peter and John had seen Jesus heal people many times – physical healing and inner healing.  And now as Jesus had passed his ministry onto them … would the spirit also help them bring healing to those they encountered?

In the gospels, Jesus talked about how the disciples had the power to heal, but we don’t have any specific stories of anyone being healed by the disciples. 

There are some hints of the disciples possibly being involved in healings such as the sending out of the 72 … but more we have stories of the disciples trying to heal and it didn’t work (such as Mathew 17).  So, it is very brave of Peter and John to offer healing to this lame man with little or no experience of healing people before this.  But this is post Pentecost – they had the Holy Spirit.  And the man jumped up and walked.

But so do we!  We have access to the same spirit … so next time Brett is here at church, should I call upon the name of Jesus, take him by the end and help him out of his wheelchair?  How do we apply this to our church?

I have preached on healing here before and every time I do there is this internal struggle within me.  Have I seen God heal people?  Yes, I have.  Have I seen God physically heal people?  Yes, I have.  Will I pray for people who ask for healing?  Yes, I will.   I believe that God has the power to heal … and still heals today … and yet, I probably have more stories of praying for physical healing and it not happening, or not in the way that I prayed for.  And this inconsistency of the healing process makes me hesitant to focus on it too much.

But if our sermon series is looking at how the Spirit helped the Early Church and how the Spirit can help our church … this topic of healing will keep coming back up.  The gospels and the book of Acts are filled with stories of physical healing.  So maybe we need to have a honest yet hopeful conversation about how we can be more open to praying for people and in particular, praying for physical and emotional and spiritual healing and wholeness in our church.

And I think we need to broaden our vision to see healing to be as much about healing of our souls and restoration into community as much as physical healing.  I love how in this reading we have Peter and John valuing this man, looking at him, holding him – reminding him that he is a person of worth regardless of whether he can walk or not.  And after the healing we see that this man held onto to Peter, and was reconnected back into his community – a healing of relationships and inclusion.  There is a lot of healing that happened here – and his ankles were just a small part of it.

I am going to leave this here because I feel God wants me to focus on a different message for today, but if you wish to talk more about healing, or ask questions, or even to ask for prayer for healing – chat with me.  

But lets move onto the second idea that I think this readings brings up on how the Spirit can help us as a church … but to be honest, it is actually in the verses that immediately proceeds this passage – on what comes next after this man was healed. 

  • Let me explain … community theologians.

The man has jumped and leaped and praised God, the crowd has gathered and are astonished and asking, “How can this be?”  And the Holy Spirit prompts Peter to take the opportunity… “Let me explain”, he says.

I love this.  You have the crowd who are genuinely perplexed.  They want to know and understand how this man is now walking – and Peter becomes a community teacher, or a community theologian, explaining to them about Jesus.

If you read verses 11 through to 24, we find Peter explaining it is through Jesus, who was crucified and risen from the dead, that made this man strong, … and how if they turn to God, they can also find forgiveness and healing … how God can bring a time of refreshing and restore things in their life too. 

And I think that this has practical applications for us to – more than ever we need to embrace our role in our circle of friends or our local community as people who can bring a faith perspective to issues, or to be community theologians – helping people understand the way of Jesus and engage with talk about God.

Do you get what I am talking about – how do we do what Peter did when the people saw the power of God and work and wondered what it all meant?  Peter steps up and says, “maybe I can be helpful here… let me explain… ”

I am not suggesting this is easy … we live in a society where truth has become relative and people have really strong opinions on issues.  It is far easier to just not say anything.  But I also think that there is a real appetite for considered conversations – and for people who are able to be helpful in guiding those conversations.

It is one of the things that we teach when students are training for the ministry in field education – how to encourage and participate in thoughtful, reflective discussions on the real issues that people are facing in life.  When a person becomes unemployed – rather than say, “good luck getting a new job” … but actually offering a conversation about the feelings and complications and challenges that come with a period of unemployment.

So how do we do this…  Here are some practical points that I can offer you – you might have others…

  1. This is not about you sharing your personal thoughts or opinions but stimulating reflective conversations.

The best way to do this is bring in a variety of sources or ideas or viewpoints.  That way the gathered group will be able to engage widely and reflect on what best resonates with them.  As a follower of Jesus, a key source we can include is the Bible … what stories, verses or narratives might speak into this conversation.  Or what Christian writers have we read on this topic, or podcasts we have listen to. 

  • We want to encourage curiosity and open-ended questions rather than shut down conversation with closed answers

It is so tempting when someone says “I don’t understand” for us to go “I have the answer”.  Sometimes we do have the answer but a good community theologian invites exploring before jumping to the conclusion.

I learnt this at college when I was in this really honest conversation with a few people about death.  One person said, “I don’t think I believe in hell”.  I could see my friend next to me leaning forward, getting ready to rattle off all the biblical verses about hell when other person in the group simply asked, “Why is that.  What’s led you to think this way?”  I was blown away as the conversation just opened up as we talked about judgement, and justice and a whole bunch of other things.  My friend was still able to bring in the Bible – but it was clear that question opened up the conversation where answers too early would have shut it down.     

This discernment on how to do this well is not easy and we get better with practice … but it is linked with point 1, wanting to encourage conversations more than just jumping to expressing our own opinions.

  • We need to be careful about our use of religious jargon … stuff that makes sense to us but not to most people.

The use of language can be something that draws people into a conversation or excludes them from it.  I don’t know if you noticed that I was doing it over the Easter weekend … with so many visitors I was trying to use language which the wider community can relate to rather than the internal language that we might normally use.  For example, I sometimes talked about brokenness and the healing that comes through forgiveness instead of always using the word ‘sin’.   Even Peter in Acts 3 does this.  He probably uses too many religious words or phrases … so in verse 16 he sums up in a simple sentence …  It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed this man.  Which segways perfectly to the last point:

  • Ultimately we should point them to Jesus.

Our role as a community theologian is not only to help people listen, converse and learn together … but also to point people to Jesus and to reveal the blessings that come with following Jesus way.  In Acts 3, Peter and John could have encouraged a discussion about the economic problems that led to this bloke begging in the first place … but Peter knew that they had something else to offer here.  As people who believe that Jesus can transform lives and communities, we should also try and respectfully highlight what Jesus can bring too.

So how do I wrap this up? 

I was told as a teenager (who was desperately trying to learn more about he Holy Spirit and access the spirits power … that’s a story for another day) … I was told that we can’t control what the spirit is doing, we just have to look for where we see the spirit at work and join in.

Peter and John were just going to their normal afternoon prayers when the Spirit began to move … and they took a risk and invite this man to rise up and walk. 

May we be attuned to seeing where the spirit is at work

May we all be open to being part of those opportunities when the Spirit is moving.

May we have the courage to pray for the healing of mind, spirit and body.

And … when people ask “how can this be” …

May we embrace our role as community theologians and engage in the conversations that lead people to open their minds and possibly take a step closer to Jesus.