I got an email from an acquaintance named Rita last week, saying, "Our church is having two healing services this Sunday. Would you like to come?" At first it sounded like someone had told me, "Our church is going to have a Category 4 hurricane this Sunday." But the more I thought of it, God's Word says he gave gifts like "teaching" and "healing" (1 Corinthians 12:28). So if you can schedule "teaching," why can't you schedule "healing"? I mean, the Holy Spirit has to show up for both or they're an exercise in futility.
Anyway, I went. The bulletin had three events listed on the front page. One was a "Prayer and Praise night with focus on missions teams." Another was a new work date for a church outing to paint a castle play structure at a park. The third one said:
"Healing emphasis today. The focus of both morning services today will be on communion and healing. The services will not be shortened, but we will take plenty of time to pray for healing: physical, emotional, spiritual---whatever you need. Expect great things from God!"
The Critic---who is a person living in my soul who comes out at times like this---was crouching and ready to pounce on an imbalance in theology, a lusting after sensationalism rather than God. She got no satisfaction. People were warm and welcoming, the singing was worshipful, reverent, and exuding a joy that could not be faked. (I thought of the verse, "You are holy, enthroned on the praises of your people.") A white, elderly pastor preached to a 70/30 percent white-black congregation, and throughout the sermon there was a steady percolation of supportive "amens" and other chatter that would have gratified my old softball coach.
The text was James 5, the part of the Apostle's letter many churches skip over. It pulled convincingly from Old and New Testaments, and my Critic piped down, having nothing to say. Afterward, a prayer team (which seemed to consist of a fourth of the church) streamed up front and anyone who wanted prayer was invited to come. If the church had been a boat it would have listed to the bow.
Here the Critic came alive again, watching to see how this would work: Would it be whites to whites, and blacks to blacks? What in fact occurred was the dissolving of walls that Jesus and Paul talked about: Black young men holding hands with white elderly women, and every other combination you can imagine. Vials of oil were available for anyone who wanted.
We had communion together, and then the pastor walked the center aisle, asking if any had something they would like to thank God for. My acquaintance Rita, whose son is in jail for murder, said, "I want to thank Him for his continual encouragement." Many others gave public praise, and the scene resembled Paul's vision for the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:29-32)---an orderly assembly, flexible enough for the Holy Spirit to lead.
After the service I was trying to make my way out of the building, but people kept being friendly to me, so it took a while. And rather than the usual conversation one hears at the exit of a church on Sunday morning, they were still talking about the Lord.
To hear commentaries by Andrée Seu, click here.