Hunger for Healing; Hypochondriasis
Epiphany 5B Mark 1:29-39
A word that is part of our vocabulary is the word, hypochondriac. It comes from the word, hypochondriasis. I want you to know immediately that I am a hypochondriac. A hypochondriac is a person who goes to the doctor over and over again, convinced that they are physically sick. Such people are physically sick but it is their mind that has convinced them that they are sick. The real cause of the disease is not something physiological but something psychological.
Statistics tells us the 85 % of the people who visit a doctor are ill because of stress. There are stressor in themselves or their environment. 85% of all illness is caused by emotions and not germs or viruses.
We also need to be reminded that 15% are caused by physical diseases and not emotions. For example, in my family is a history of skin cancer. My brother has skin cancer; my uncle had a bad case of skin cancer; I have skin cancer. That is the way it is. It has nothing to do with emotions and stress. It has to do with genes and chromosomes that I inherited from my family. Even so, most illness is associated with high stress.
I could give you a long history of my hypochondriasis, but I won’t bore you with that. I will share with you the most recent episodes. For example, as a pastor, I call on people who are sick and the closer I am to them emotionally, the more often I get their disease in my brain. That is, I have a dear college friend by the name of Scott. He and I graduated together from college; his wife and my wife were roommates in college together; and we are all dear friends. He is a Lutheran pastor and the director of Holden Village. Two years ago when he was here in Seattle, he had shortness of breath. The doctors did tests and he had to have a bypass surgery. I would go and see Scott where he was here in Seattle in the hospital. Slowly, I thought I had shortness of breath, just like my friend Scott. I became worrisome and thought that I should take a treadmill test. I went cross country skiing and I became very short of breath, and so I thought way deep down inside that I had the same physical disease as Scott. I didn’t, but I am a hypochondriac. I over identified with Scottie.
Recently, a friend of mine in our congregation became sick with an ulcer. I watched him and his ulcer and pretty soon my stomach was becoming tighter and tighter and tighter and pretty soon I was convinced that I had an ulcer. I didn’t. I was a hypochondriac.
When I went to see the doctor, I didn’t tell him or her that I had over identified with my friend. I just told him that I was short of breath.
What I am suggesting to you is that at the very heart of life, 85% of all illness is due to some form of hypochondriasis; it has to do with the mind, the emotions, the stress that we impose upon our lives.
I am also suggesting to you today that medical research is suggesting that there is a clear connection between stress and illness. In a famous book, GETTING WELL AGAIN, by Symington and Symington, who are cancer research specialists, these research physicians discuss stress as a contributing cause of most disease, including cancer. High levels of stress cause a susceptibility to disease, especially chronic stress, and stress over a long period of time contributes to the repression of the immune system.
In this book, there is research study by a physician from the University of Washington. His name is Dr. Vernon Riley. Dr. Riley divides cancer prone groups of mice into two groups. He puts one group of cancer prone mice under high stress and another group of cancer prone mice under low stress. In the high stress group, 92% of them developed cancer; in the low, stress free group, it was 7%. 92% verses 7%. Stress had resulted in the suppression of the immunity system in those mice.
Another interesting research study is that people often get cancer sixteen months after some enormously emotionally traumatic event in their lives. When we hear a conclusion that people are susceptible to cancer sixteen months after an unusually traumatic event or events, a person has to express an enormous reservation. Trauma does not necessarily cause cancer, but it may be another example of stress contributing to all diseases, including cancer.
It is with this introduction that our thoughts, mind, and emotions influence our health, that we approach the gospel story for today. In the gospel of Mark, there are ten consecutive stories that tell about Jesus the healer. In all ten stories, there is an indication that there was a hunger for healing in all ten situations.
I would briefly like to review these ten stories for you, but I first need to set the scene. The scene is in the little village of Jesus’ adulthood. The name of the village was Capernaum, located on the northern shore of Lake Galilee. It has been excavated archeologically, and you can visit both the ruins of the old synagogue and other homes from the times of Jesus.
There in that synagogue at the time of Christ, there was a man with an unclean spirit who wants to be healed. The sick person with an unclean spirit comes into the synagogue and asks Jesus for healing. Immediately, Jesus heals him.
Then, Jesus goes next door to Simon Peter’s house. Now today, if you go to the village of archeological Capernaum, right next to the synagogue is sign which says “Simon Peter’s house.” Peter’s mother in law was sick, and Andrew, James and John wanted her to be healed. They, too, had this hunger for healing, and Jesus healed her.
Then, the next morning, as Jesus went walking down the road in Capernaum, there was a leper who had to stay far away from Jesus and everybody else because of his contagious leprosy. He called out across the space between them, “Jesus, unclean, unclean. Would you please heal me?” There was a hunger for healing inside of him.
Then, that afternoon, Jesus was teaching at another home in Capernaum, and there were four friends who had a fifth friend who was very, very ill. These four friends cut a hole in the roof of a house, and they dropped their friend on a stretcher down through the roof into the room where Jesus was. The hunger for healing was so strong in these four friends that they went to great lengths to get their friend to Jesus.
The next story in Mark is the story of a man with a withered hand. It was against the law to heal on the Sabbath. Healing someone on the Sabbath was called work, and a person could not work on the Sabbath. The man with the withered hand said, “Jesus, I know that it is against the rules, but my withered hand needs to be healed. Would you heal me?” In this man, there was a hunger for healing, and Jesus healed him.
After this, seeing all the pain the world, Jesus sent out his disciples to preach the gospel and he gave them power to heal.
And finally, at the climax of all of these stories in the gospel of Mark, we hear a famous teaching of Jesus, “Those who are well have no need of a physician; but those who are diseased need a physician. I, Jesus, have come to heal those who are sick.” In other words, Jesus was and still is the Great Physician.”
What I would like to suggest to you this morning is that in all of those stories and in all of those lives, there was a hunger for healing in them all. There was a hunger for healing for themselves, for their family members, for their friends. And I would like to suggest the same is true for you and me. We too have a hunger for healing inside of us, for ourselves, our family, our friends, so many people. We pray for healing all the time. It is part of our hunger for healing in each of us.
I would like to suggest to you today that Jesus is still the healer, and that the Presence of God comes to you this day to heal our minds, our emotions, our relationships, our immorality, our sinfulness. And as the result of all that healing, the Spirit of Jesus heals the bodies as well.
Through many years of study and thinking about these things, I have come to believe that we can understand the diseases and healings of Jesus today more clearly than they were able to comprehend them in Biblical times. Let me explain. In Biblical times, all they had was the concept of demons, and demons would cause illnesses. In Biblical times, they did not have the concept of viruses, of genetic dispositions, or even of psychosomatic medicine. For example, there is a story about a little boy who kept on having some kind of convulsions and falling into the fire and burning himself as the family was cooking. The Bible concludes that he had a demon. They explained it through the presence of demons that caused this little boy to fall into the fire. The Jesus came and laid his hands on the boy and the Bible says the boy was quote “clothed in his right mind.” That the boy was “clothed in his right mind” indicates that healing of the demons involved healing of the mind. When scholars look at that text, they often conclude that this little boy may have been having epileptic seizures. Again, the Biblical authors had no concept of epileptic seizures. They had no concept of genetics or viruses or any of these modern medical ideas but only demons who caused convulsions. So I am suggesting to you that in our day and age, we can better understand the nature and cause of diseases than in Biblical times.
We are well aware of psychosomatic medicine and we are well aware that if we have a disease, it is often the result of a dis-ease. We have dis-eases in our stomachs. That is, I have a dis-easiness due to a conflict with my family or work. There is a dis-easiness which grows and grows and grows in me. I have a dis-easiness in me and so I go and work compulsively and have a heart attack or I have a dis-easiness within me so I drink compulsively to calm the dis-easiness in me and soon may become an alcoholic. I eat too much ice cream and other foods to control the dis-easiness in my nerves. We all know about this. We all know about this dis-easiness inside of us that results in much of our compulsive behavior, trying to calm our stomachs down.
Today, I not only think we better understand diseases that they did in Biblical times; I also think we better understand the role and power of belief, that faith is essential to the healing process. I would like to share with you two studies about the power of faith and the placebo effect. Let me explain. There is a Harvard medical study that studied post-operative patients. These people had come out of surgery and they were given either morphine or sugar water. The people were not told of this experiment. 52% of the people postoperatively received relief from their pain due to morphine; but 40% of the postoperative patients got better if they were told by their doctor that they had receive a drug to help, but they had only received sugar water. Why did the sugar water help almost as much as the morphine? Because the patients believed the doctor when he said it would help. The placebo, the sugar water, was nearly as strong as the morphine if it was combined with the doctor’s power of suggestion.
Another fascinating study was on arthritis patients. They have half the group aspirin and cortisone, and the other sugar pills. They told both groups that they would benefit from their medication. Needless to say, the sugar pills were nearly as effective as the aspirin and cortisone, as long as the people believed what the doctor said was true. … But interestingly enough, and this is the part of the experiment that I really like, the medical people put the sugar water into an injection, and injected the sugar water with a needle into the veins. An injection of sugar water proved to be more potent that morphine. The people believed especially when they received an injection because injections are thought to be even more potent that pills. Why was this so? Because nowadays, we more keenly are aware of the power, the medicinal powers of belief. I believe that we understand today the medicinal powers of belief even more than they did in Biblical times.
Some of this may be offensive to you. Some of you may prefer demons and demonology and demon possession and demons of the mind and demons of the body. But I find that this kind of discussion really helps me to understand Jesus the healer more clearly.
We have come to hear today that Jesus not only healed in the past and in the Bible, but that Jesus still comes to heal us today. Jesus comes to heal you and me of unhealthy stress that causes all kinds of problems in our lives.
Let me speak personally. What is a primary unhealthy stress in my personal life at this moment? I have a need to succeed, to do things exceptionally well, and well is not good enough. It needs to be done exceptionally well or it does not count. And so I put pressure on myself and I work so hard, you have no idea how hard I work at times. I will die of a heart attack trying to produce quality stuff. Meanwhile, people may not comprehend that I killed myself of a heart attack because I put unhealthy pressure on myself to do the job exceptionally well. I have to do exceedingly well in order to be a valued person. Let’s face it. This attitude is sick, and it is a common sickness.
Another example. Parents put stress on themselves to be successful parents. If you ask kids in our church today and other similar churches; if you ask these kids what is their number one stress, the answer is grades. These kids need to get good grades or they will be a failure to their parents. So all their parents lean on their kids very strongly because if the grades are not good, we have failed as a parent. And if the grades are superior, we can’t show it but we feel superior about ourselves.
One time, I had an adult inquiry class list the stressors in their lives. We put down fifty on the board. What were the top two stressors in their lives? Way at the top? What was number one? You all know the answer. Money. The shortage of money was by far the number one stressor. I then asked the class how many of them did not have enough money to eat, sleep and take care of their essential needs. One out of thirty did not have enough money. Twenty-nine did, but even if they had enough money, they put stress on themselves about money. What was the second highest stressor? Conflicts with people at work. Conflicts are work can eat at us when we are at home and everyplace else.
How does Jesus go about healing us today?
Are you well? …. Are you well? ….. Are you really well? …. What Jesus really wants and needs from you is a hunger in your heart for a healing of those relationships, those conflicts, those stressors which are causing disabilities in yourself. Jesus wants us to have a hunger for healing inside our souls. There needs to be a hunger for healing in us, and we all have this. We want healing for our friends and selves.
First, we need to be honest. At the heart of all healing is a willingness to be honest, a willingness to be honest about one’s dis-easiness. A willingness to be honest about those things which you don’t want to be honest about. When I was growing up, we sang this song by Elvis Presley, The Great Pretender. For many of us, the art of life is pretending. The great pretenders, pretending we are well when we are not.
I have a friend by the name of Dr. Roland Martinson, a professor at Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul. In a lecture, I heard him tell that he was a bed wetter until he was in seventh grade. Rollie and I are really good friends. In all the years of our friendship, I didn’t know he was a bed wetter until he was in seventh grade. He said he was so ashamed of that, he would never let anybody know. As the years went by, he finally got honest about this childhood anxiety, and he told his congregation about that when he was a pastor in Fargo, N. D., and soon after that, he helped twenty-seven families who were struggling with the whole issue of bed wetting.
Second, we need Jesus to heal and help us to change the conflicts and stressors that contribute to 85% of the illnesses today. At the very heart of healing is an honesty about those things in our life which are not well, and the loving Presence of God and Christ in our lives can heal those inner tensions, conflicts and stressors. We have preached about regularly on almost every Sunday.
Third, we are to use the finest doctors, hospitals, research, drugs and technology which are available today and through which God continues to work modern miracles. Working as a pastor and having personally almost died recently and after spending two months in hospitals, I can personally testify that God is working miracles of healing today through these marvelous hospitals and research centers. Living in the twenty-first century, I believe we are living in the midst of a million medical miracles.
As we use all this medical technology, there is still plenty of room for belief, the power of medicinal belief, to believe that we can be healed through these modern medicines. The key is the word, belief. I remember watching a video and all these children had leukemia and all the children had the finest medical treatments in the world. But in addition to that medical treatment, these physicians had these children imaging in their mind how the cancer was being attacked. One little boy was into Star Wars, and this little boy with leukemia would come flying down in a Star Wars jet airplane fighter and he would shoot at and blast the tumors. The little girl wasn’t that way at all. The little girl had a river and it was a river of white blood cells, and those white blood cells washed around the tumor at every side of it. That river of cells was washing that tumor away.
Fourth, at the heart of healing today is to pray. It is to pray deeply for your own wellness, and to pray deeply for the wellness of those around you. While in the midst of my long hospital illness, living in the middle of medical miracles, how I prayed! Deeply. Persistently. For God’s strength. For God’s healing. For God’s Presence. Amen.
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