Healing – Susan B. Memorial
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
This morning is a great privilege for me and a great privilege for all of us here even if you don’t particularly know the details because this is your first Sunday or you did not know the lady I am talking about. But Susan Bagdasarianz died on Thursday. So, I feel that it’s God giving us an opportunity to receive something from Him personally. I’ll try to tell you a little about her later in the service so that even those of you who didn’t know about her, will be able to understand something of what it means to many of us here. But perhaps the first thing is to look at Job 1:21 because that is clear, plain reality and that’s the first thing that God is saying to us this morning.
Job 1:20-21. “And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’”
Now, you may have been at funerals and have heard those words but if you haven’t, those are the words that somebody like me will use when you are being buried. That quotation from Job is part of every funeral service. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
First of all, we need to bow before God and see that He is sovereign. And whatever all our theories are about healing, God is sovereign. He does what He does and He has the right to do it. We cannot refuse that. We cannot do anything about it finally. So, loved ones first of all that’s the right thing to share with each other this morning. This is God saying once more, “I am your God. You are not God. Kenneth Hagen is not God. Oral Roberts is not God. Ernest O’Neill is not God. You are not God. I am God and I do what is right. And I require you to recognize that I am God and that I have that sovereign right. And your life continues as long as it is my will for it to continue.”
I think that’s the first thing that’s important because that is reality. I knew that the first time I stood in an old cemetery in London. The British rain was blasting down and a few little ones stood around the grave. I was a Methodist minister and part of my responsibility was to bury even people I didn’t know. There we stood with me not knowing the person who had been buried, and hardly knowing the people who were standing around. When you say those words, it comes home to you whatever the situation, however warm it is, however lacking in understanding or full of understanding it is, finally God is God. The Lord is God and He has the right to give and He has the right to take away. We wouldn’t have our own lives if it weren’t through His graciousness.
Now, you can see that that ties up a little with the death of David’s son. You remember how he prayed and prayed that the sick son would be made well. He fasted and would not eat. He wore sackcloth and ashes. Then when the son died, he bowed to God. Because all his theories, all his great theories crumbled in the dust before reality. Then he dressed himself, put on his clothes, washed and ate because he said, “The Lord has shown what His will is.” No one can gainsay that. I share that brothers and sisters as the first place to begin in what I’d like to talk about in regard to healing today.
First of all, be realistic, be sensible, see what has happened and see God Himself is Lord. The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not, that is reality. Finally, a sensible person will come to the point where they say, “God knows all things and God knows best and God does what is best for His children.” Of course those of us who know Jesus will go further and will say, “God does whatever it takes to save our souls if we are willing to have our souls saved at all.” And so God Himself uses adverse circumstances, sicknesses, and all kinds of things to make sure that we come into heaven if we truly want to be in heaven. And so God makes sickness even His servant.
So, maybe that’s the first place we should begin at. God obviously at times does not heal sickness. He did not heal David’s son when he prayed for him and he did not heal Susan in the way that many of us understood. So God is God. The Lord, He is God. I think the second thing to see is in Matthew 8:14-17.
“And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and served him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”
The second thing to see is that Jesus has, in fact, borne our sicknesses and carried our pains in His own body. He did so not only on the physical Calvary cross in 29 A.D., but in the Cross — that took place before the foundation of the world when the Lamb was slain. So the second thing to see is that Jesus has actually taken those sicknesses. He has taken them and He has borne them away and destroyed them so the world may say we die of sickness but it is God’s permitted sickness that kills us. It is not the sickness itself. It is God using the sickness.
The second thing is that Jesus has borne our sicknesses and carried our diseases and that He heals. He healed here all who were sick. He healed Peter’s mother-in-law. There are many instances of this healing in this book. And we know ourselves of many instances where God has healed in response to prayer. He healed my mom of cancer in response to prayer. So God heals. He does heal. It is right to go to God and it is right to ask in full faith that He will heal our loved ones and our friends and if you say to me, “Well, how do you pray?” You pray with full faith. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways and he’ll get nothing from the Lord.
You go forward not with your head full of theories, or pious precedence. You go with a whole heart saying, “Lord, I know you have borne our sicknesses and carried our diseases. I know it is not this sickness or disease that need kill me. If I go at all, it is because you allowed the thing to continue in me because you need me in the next world. But Lord, I ask you to heal me and make me whole.” You go with a whole and complete heart to it.
If you say to me loved ones, “Well, do you not think you need something from the Lord personally?” Well, you’ve to go by the word of God. You’ve to go by the word of God and ask God in full faith. Sometimes He may give you a complete assurance that this person will be healed, sometimes He may not. All you can do is go before God with a whole heart and a full faith and ask Him for healing.
Now, it is not your place or mine to be the clever ones in this. That’s not our responsibility. It is not our place to be able to explain to everybody, “I know the Lord is going to heal this person.” It plays to our pride. It is not our place to be able to explain what God will do and what He won’t
do. If you say to me, “Does He not sometimes give to some people a complete assurance so that He can use that to bring glory?” Sometimes He does, but not always.
Nevertheless, just because you haven’t that assurance, that doesn’t mean you do not go before Him on the basis of His word and ask in all the faith that you have on the basis of His word. You do, loved ones. Whenever somebody is sick, you go before the Father and you say, “Lord Jesus, You bore this sickness. You carried this pain. I know this has no control of my loved one. I know you healed Peter’s mother-in-law. I know you healed all who came to you. I ask You Lord Jesus to heal my loved one or to heal my friend completely.” Our place is full, complete faith in God.
Brothers and sisters if you say to me, “Oh no, I need a mathematical, logical, philosophical proof that this works before I ask.” Loved ones, you are demanding to be God. What you’re demanding is not faith. You’re demanding a logical simultaneous equation that you can prove by the knowledge of your mind. That isn’t what God has promised us. God has said, “Come to me, ask me in full faith and then leave this with Me. Bow to me and know that I will do what is best in this situation.”
So the second thing is to see that God has borne our sicknesses and carried our pains and it is no big thing for Him to heal us completely. Our place is to ask for complete healing.
The third thing loved ones is found there in Second Corinthians 12:7. It’s Paul telling of his own experience who was used to heal many people. He was bitten by a serpent and instead of being poisoned to death was healed. He writes this in Second Corinthians 12:7-10.
“And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
It was some kind of disease of the eyes. It wasn’t some sin. He wouldn’t glory in a sin and call it a weakness. It was some disease of the eyes that the great healer himself had prayed about and asked God to heal him. God didn’t remove the symptoms but you see what he said, “My strength is made perfect in your weakness. Even if as you have the weakness of the physical symptoms in your body, My strength, the strength by which I raised Jesus from the dead, will give you strength and life to carry on as if you had no sickness.”
God heals that way at times and the evidence is Paul’s own life. Sometimes God will not remove the symptoms. He will not, in that sense, “heal completely” as we say. But He will give strength and life to carry on despite the symptoms and despite all the evidences that there are nails in the hands and a sword in the side. The person is able to carry on as if there was no sickness in their body.
So, of course without any question, the dear girl (Susan) was to die three or four years ago. Four years ago she had the lymph glands removed under her arm and then the breast cancer came. Four years ago they gave her one year to live. She should have died three years ago when little Rachael was three and Peter was one year of age. Undoubtedly she should have died three years ago.
Any of us who read Susan’s letters, harrowing letters, remember how the metastasis had spread all
throughout her body so that she’d be sitting with Peter on her lap and he would poke his elbow into her ribs and break them. You know the story as we read it here Sunday by Sunday and put her letters into the bulletin. The poor girl had almost no body left.
Her body was broken up in every way. When I went to see her, she was so small compared with the girl that I had known. She had lost height. The whole body had taken such a beating and yet God had obviously given her super human life and energy to carry on. She was able to bring the children through those first years of school. She was also able to help Serge, (who was also a doctor), to get the church started in Switzerland.
So at times God will heal by giving strength, supernatural strength to live despite the symptoms of sickness in your body. I knew another man called Hessian in England. He was an Anglican minister who actually walked about like the invisible man. You may remember the invisible man in the movie was bandaged completely because you couldn’t see him any other way. So too this man was bandaged all around. He had had so many operations, there was almost nothing left inside him as far as cancer was concerned. Yet he carried on a whole ministry with J. Arthur Rank. (Rank used to produce the religious films.) He carried on that way for years by a supernatural life that was given to him by God.
So loved ones, secondly God is able to heal by leaving the symptoms, but by giving you strength to carry on doing what He has given you to do. Thirdly, He is able to do what He has promised in First Corinthians 15. Maybe you should look at it. There came a time in my dad’s life when I had no doubt that this was what it was. There comes a time when the Lord asks you to bear it no longer. It’s a different healing. But it is a healing.
1 Corinthians 15:35-58:
“But some one will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised
imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
God can give you a new body. There comes a time when the Father looks down upon us in compassion and says, “Enough is enough”, and He gives a new body. God can heal the symptoms completely as He did with Peter’s mother-in-law. He can give strength by leaving the symptoms and yet give the power of Jesus’ life into you so that you live with the signs of sickness still in your body. Or He can give you a new body completely which is the best and the most complete healing.
But loved ones, it is in the Father’s hands. This is a blessed day. This is a blessed day because we can bow together before God and say, “Lord, our lives are in your hands and you have wisdom to do what you know needs is to be done. Lord, we will ask you the best we know but Father we thank you that you will do the very best.” Loved ones, it’s so good. Do you want to be in my hands? Do I want to be in your hands? No, what weak hands we have!
Do I want to be at the mercy of your theories of healing? Do you want to be at the mercy of mine? No, what weak little minds we have. We are nothings. But God Himself is wise and all knowing. He knows the best for His children. The Lord uses sickness as a ministry to you and me. He is using all these things. It is not that He cannot remove it at this moment. That’s why He has done that at times to show you that He can remove it at this moment. But it is that He uses whatever is needed to save your soul. That is why often you come into all kinds of problems and difficulties and hardships because God knows how to keep you humble before Him. If your heart is bent towards Him, He knows how to keep your heart safe.
Loved ones, many of us cannot afford to be well. Many of us cannot afford to be wealthy. Many of us cannot afford to be well known or to be approved of by other people. Many of us would lose our own souls if those came about. It is the Lord’s goodness that He uses those things.
Now, Susan — the girl is watching at the moment so I need to say these things. I first met Susan about 18 years ago, here on the university campus when I began to preach in Bethany Presbyterian Church. She started to come there before we started Campus Church. I was riding around campus one day on my bike when I saw that all the traffic was stopped at Oak Street. Some guys were obviously taking an interest in a blonde, bikini clad girl that was washing her car at Rainbow House on Oak Street — which was the same street that Bethany Presbyterian Church was on. Susan was a dynamic medical student on the university campus about 17 or 18 years ago.
We started Campus Church in the Mormon Tabernacle, which is now being demolished. Seventeen years ago, in 1970 we had our first services in the Mormon Tabernacle. It was an ex-Christian Scientist church and they had one of those massive organs – the kind built into the wall – with pipes almost bigger than the church itself. Susan came on the second Sunday and I said, “Susan could you play
this organ because we had no music the Sunday before.” She said, “Pastor, I am not very good, but I’ll try.” So she started to play this organ. It was the weirdest thing because many of the notes produced no sounds at all. So the first Sundays were exciting and Susan played the organ those early days.
She was in her third or fourth year in medicine and was beginning to come into all the excitement that you ladies manage to get yourselves into when suitable guys start lining up at your door. She was attractive and she had a number of guys lined up at her door. Often she and I would have those difficult sessions that some of you know about in the office. This guy was so handsome and so wonderful. He looked great but did not love Jesus. That was the battle. Susan would go out with him a few times and then would come back and we’d pray about it. There were times I wasn’t sure how it was going to go because she was growing in her faith and really wasn’t too certain about things. Yet, the dear girl held onto what was right.
So, I’d encourage you however tentative your hold is on Jesus, if you have any hold on Him, keep holding onto Him. Keep holding on, keep heading towards life, and keep heading away from death. It’s amazing — you may feel you have little or no strength but God somehow ekes out the little strength you have.
And so the dear girl began to stand up on her feet spiritually. Campus Church was growing and she continued to be a leading part in it. All of us began to know the bright, happy, humorous person she was with a lot of dynamism and a lot of drive. You had to have that to be a female in medicine at that time. She continued to be vivacious, bright, optimistic and humorous. I believe she also went off on some of the summer trips that we had to Europe.
Susan graduated from medicine and then faced the question: do you go and make the “old sheckles” (money) or do you in fact find out what God wants to do with your medicine? It was very tempting for a beautiful looking medical student to think of going off and making “the sheckles”, or to go off and specialize. The dear girl kept listening to Jesus and she sensed the call from him to go into the Sudan Interior Mission. We prayed about it and she went off to Ethiopia to serve in a hospital there.
Susan was by that time 28 or 29 years, an old age pensioner in her mind. That was a tragedy to be going off to Ethiopia to serve as an unmarried woman missionary. That was the beginning of the end of life. But she had none of that spirit. She really was enthusiastic and felt God had called her. So off she went to Ethiopia. It was a glorious time despite working 18-20 hours a day. She was finding herself cutting out appendices and cutting out all kinds of things that she had never been trained to do.
She continued to send back bright letters. You remember when she rode her first horse she had a picture of her riding the horse in Ethiopia. She wasn’t at all that kind of self-sacrificing, terrible, dreary missionary that was struggling manfully to serve the Lord. She was just enjoying it.
She used to talk to me of a man, a jungle doctor as she called him. She said he was a Swiss man but he was really a jungle doctor. He would operate night and day. He would operate; you’ll excuse me saying, with the blood splashing in all directions. He just kept operating. She admired him tremendously and he gradually taught her to do that kind of hard work surgery that was required in the hospitals.
She came home and again there was the question. Do you go back again or do you start husband hunting? Satan brings the same questions to us. He checks us over in the same issues. So, she had to make the decision again. She went back to Ethiopia, this time to another hospital.
She began to write to me about Serge Bagdasarianz (the jungle doctor). He had two children and his wife had died of cancer. She began to write to me about him and to pray very wisely and in a very balanced way about some of the feelings that she had for him and he had for her. That was nine years ago. They came home and I married them in the Garden Court. Some of you were there at it in the third floor lounge. The two boys were there and were attendants.
So they began their married life together nine years ago. But I would say it must be four years ago when the lumps came in the breast and the lymph cancer spread. It spread throughout the whole body. But you know her letters and she was glorious. She was not a fair weather sailor. She was a glory — really. If that’s what God is able to produce through anything that any of us do, then that’s glorious.
She turned out to be a brave, courageous and valiant girl. You know her letters. She would write and say, “I have a thing that picks up cans now from the floor.” She would joke about it because she could no longer bend to pick up anything that fell on the floor. In one of the last letters we got, maybe as recently as a week or two ago, she could no longer be carried upstairs to bed.
She said, “I reign as queen here at a desk on the ground floor.” She just stayed behind the desk all day and I presume just lay back on a chair at night. That was the kind of spirit that she had. And you remember, she was right with us. She was right there saying, “I am believing God for my healing. I am believing Him to make me whole and well.” The Swiss ladies began to pilgrimage to her home in these recent months because she was carrying on Bible studies and prayer groups.
Serge was a doctor (as was Susan) who had gone back to Switzerland to begin a church. Right up until the end Susan was continuing to do everything that a minister’s wife would do. She carried on right up to the beginning of the last week. She carried on her responsibilities even though she was shot through with pain and had virtually no body left. If you keep on when approaching death, then you have to say, “Wait a minute, they are either insane or this is real.” It’s the kind of witness that counts.
Then, I need to tell you this because it’s really the challenge that God is giving to all of us today. On Monday she went into hospital in tremendous pain. Then on Tuesday and Wednesday, the pain became very intense.
I need to say this to you because too often we smooth it all over and we say, “Oh yes, if you believe in Jesus, you’ll go right through and you’ll have no pain.” Then you know what we do because we’re so terrible on these deaths. We say, “Oh well, they felt no pain”, as if pain really is to be all and end all.
She had intense pain. It was a desperately painful death. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the pain became so great that the whole skin seemed to be hypersensitive to any touching so that they couldn’t even inject her with pain-killing drugs. So then, she went into a coma and died on Thursday morning.
We are privileged to know the story as we have read it week by week. Was she a greater witness
through being healed completely or was she a greater witness through what happened? I have no doubt. She was 41 years old, by the way, when she died.
Little Rachael is six. She’d be the one I’d be concerned about. She is a little waif and she’s Susan’s little daughter. Little Peter is four. At four you don’t know much about what’s happening. But Rachael will be pretty lonely so it would be good to pray for her. Serge, he is a strong, miserable European like me and by God’s grace he will win through and will get going (though there’ll need to be wisdom and provision for the family). But little Rachael, it will be good to pray for her.
Now, what about us? What are you going to do with your life? When are you going to begin? What I have told you is virtually a life story isn’t it? I certainly have been privileged to see it from beginning to end. But it’s a life story. It’s a life that has passed before us all this morning and over the past months and years. Now, surely if God is saying anything to us all this morning it is this: “When are you going to begin?” There is only one thing worth doing and that is, being of value to Jesus. Nothing else is worth anything.
When it comes to this moment, children, husbands, it doesn’t mean anything. They are so far away on the other side of that labyrinth that you can’t tell a thing. The only thing that matters is, have you lived your life for the Maker that you are about to see in a few moments?
So loved ones, I’d ask you now, what are you doing? I’d ask this especially to those of you who have resolved tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Tomorrow I will give up this sin. Tomorrow I will give my life to Jesus and declare myself for Him. Tomorrow I will make a change in what I am living my life for. Tomorrow I will give up my present job and give my life to God and go wherever He wants me to. Tomorrow never comes. Tomorrow never comes, it doesn’t. Tomorrow is always in the future.
So this is probably the last testimony that she’ll give here on this campus and it is this: “You see my life. It’s not a great life and could have been a lot better. But I have done what I could. Now, will you do what you can, today?”
There’s a beautiful hymn that I suggest we sing slowly if the instrumentalist can manage that. Then you should come up to the altar, say whatever prayer you have to say and go back to your seat. We stand this morning at one of those pause points in life — one of those stopping places where God says, “Stop. What are you doing with your life? This is what my girl did with her life. What are you doing with your life?”
I do think that some of you need to make a decision today. I would encourage you to do it. The hymn is “For All the Saints Who From Their Labors Rest”. I think if we sing it slowly, it will be possible for you to come up quietly to the altar during the singing. Say your prayer or make your commitment and then return to your seats. I’ll pronounce the benediction at the end. “For all the saints who from their labor’s rest, who Thee by faith before the world confessed.” Let us stand and sing.