God of Lost Causes
(June 2003, scripture: Mark
A month or so ago, Pastor David asked me
to preach this summer. OK, I’m a teacher; I’m
a workshop leader; I can do this. Yikes! I can’t
do this! Even though I was scared, I seemed to hear a
little voice saying, “Get up! Do it!” so
I said yes. I thought, “finding a topic will be
easy—I’ll just look at the lectionary.” So
I looked up the reading for today, the Mark stories you
just heard: A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed.
I thought, “oh no! Not a healing story! Don’t
make it be a healing story!” But the little voice,
which I now had come to suspect might be the Holy Spirit,
said “Get up! Do it!”
You may already have guessed some of the
reasons I wanted to run away from this story. You can
tell by looking
at me (as I sit in this electric scooter) that I have “healing
issues.” Twenty-two years ago I was diagnosed with
Multiple Sclerosis. MS is an odd disease. For a while,
it does a dance with the body. Symptoms come, and then
they go away. Something else happens, and then it disappears. “Maybe,” said
the neurologist who diagnosed me, “you won’t
even know you have it.” Usually, though, there’s
a downward trend—the disease gets worse over time.
Being ill becomes a bigger and bigger part of life. The
experts don’t know exactly what causes it; they
don’t know how to cure it; they don’t know
why some of the drugs they use to try to treat it make
a difference. MS is unpredictable and mysterious.
I am an advice magnet. There’s something about me that seems to send the
message, “Tell me what to do.” Maybe it’s something I developed
by being the youngest child. I don’t know. If people see me out with my
dog, they come over to me to suggest dog foods and collars. If I’m out
with my daughter, Alexis, people tell me to take the training wheels off the
bike soon. And, since about 1990 when I started using a cane, they have been
telling me how to heal.
For a while, desperate to be normal, craving
well-being, I tried whatever I could afford: yoga, Chinese
herbs, vitamins, acupuncture, chiropractic treatments,
special diets, transpersonal body therapy. Each time I tried some new treatment,
I would feel a little better for a while. The folks presenting them to me
sure they could help. Buoyed by their enthusiasm, I would start looking for
of healing. I would feel a little stronger. I would think some of the numbness
was going away. I would start fantasizing how it would feel to walk. And,
after a while, things would seem to get stuck. The healing
The healer would stop talking about further improvement. I would start looking
at the bank balance. Hope would crumble. This was not a fun process. Eventually,
I said, “I am never going to do this to myself again. It’s too painful.”
Then God puts these stories in my path
and says, “Here. Teach this.” More
evidence that God has a sense of humor!
I had the luxury of living with these
stories for a month or so, reading what other people
have written about them, imagining what went on between
finding meaning in them. The scriptures are rich tapestries. The more
I looked, the more colors I found. I’d like to show you just a few of the
threads I teased from these stories.
Each person-- Jairus, the unnamed woman,
and Jairus’ daughter-- has different
needs. God guides each through a similar process. These stories suggest a path
for me to follow in my own healing and they have revolutionized the way I think
Jairus comes to Jesus. Now Jairus is an
important guy—he’s a leader
in the synagogue. He’s a part of the power structure. He is so important
that the gospel writer is mentioning his name—we might have heard of him,
But this story is not about Jairus’ power; it’s about his desperation.
He is not leader of the synagogue right now. He is a worried father. It looks
like his daughter is dying and he’s gonna try anything to stop it. As hard
as the soar and crash of my hopes for healing have been, I know that if it were
about Alexis, it would be seven times worse. Seventy times seven. God, through
Mark, is demanding my attention here! God is calling Jairus to radical action.
Imagine things at Jairus’ house. His daughter is ill; they are sure she
is dying. According to Hebrew law, the funeral must be held immediately—maybe
on the evening of the day of death. Visitors are starting to arrive. The burial
ointment and clothes are ready. Jairus slips away. He goes to this itinerant
preacher—he’s stepping outside his usual world and he’s asking
for help. No, he’s not asking. This proud leader is falling at Jesus’ feet
and begging. This is a guy who is used to being on the other side of this equation:
he is supposed to be the beg-ee, not the beggar. But, finally Jesus hears the
request and goes with him.
Whew! They’re off towards Jairus’ house to save the day. They’re
striding through the city, trying to get there in time. The crowd is coming along
for the show.
Suddenly Jesus stops and says, “Who touched my clothes?” The disciples
look at him with their mouths open. “Hello. There’s this crowd all
around us! Of course someone touched you! C’mon, let’s go. This guy
is important!” But Jesus doesn’t budge. “No. I felt it. Someone
touched me. Who was it?” A nameless nobody, comes forward, trembling, terrified.
She, too, falls at Jesus’ feet and she stammers out her story, sure that
she is in for it now.
She has been bleeding for twelve years.
Under Hebrew law, a menstruating woman was expected to
stay at home for seven
sat or lay on was
unclean. Anyone who touched her was unclean for the rest
of that day. All would have to
be ritually purified. There is even a special section in
Leviticus to deal with any woman who had a discharge “beyond the time of her impurity” to
make sure the Hebrew people understood that there were no exceptions. This woman
was officially untouchable, and had been for twelve years. For twelve years she
had “endured much under many physicians, and had spent all she had; and
she was no better, but rather grew worse.”
Anyone want to guess with whom I felt
most kinship in these stories? This woman has been given
every signal, every
Forget it! You’re hopeless! You’re unclean! You are nothing we want,
everything we don’t want. Get away!
But she has a deep, deep faith. She hears
about Jesus and thinks, “if I
but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” So she goes out. She dodges
through the crowd, trying not to touch anyone else. She reaches out and sneaks
one touch. And the bleeding stops. And she knows that she is healed. Oh, her
joy! Like dancing, like flying! Now she’s ready to creep home, wait seven
days and then take two turtledoves to the priest at the entrance of the tent
of meeting so that he can “make atonement on her behalf before the Lord
for her unclean discharge.” Then, she will be clean. She can enter the
temple and give thanks to God. She can rejoin the community, be a part of the
family. God has given her healing where she barely had hope. What a God!
That alone would have been something,
wouldn’t it? But our God is an awesome
God and Christ is a teacher of true healing. The woman has endured twelve years
of discomfort and isolation. She needs to be healed of more than the discomfort.
So Jesus stops. On his way to save the daughter of an important leader, he stops.
He listens to the woman as she tells him the whole story. He says, “Daughter,
your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” This
woman, who defied the law, came out in her unclean state and risked the purity
of everyone who might have brushed against her…this woman, who is interrupting
an important mission…He calls this woman “daughter.” With that
word he enfolds her into the family; he declares her return to the community.
Then he sends her forth in peace and healing.
There it is, in a nutshell: the healing
invitation of God. God values us and values our stories.
us to move
have, beyond the strictures others may place on us. God
brings us to wholeness and
affirms us a part of God’s family.
But wait, there’s more.
Some people come from Jairus’ house to say his daughter is dead. It’s
too late, Why trouble the teacher any further? Jesus immediately turns to Jairus,
who is no doubt standing there feeling like he’s been kicked in the stomach…breathless,
shocked, a huge wall of grief poised to fall on him. I imagine Jesus grabbing
him by both shoulders, looking into his eyes, and saying to him, with all the
authority he can muster, “do not fear, only believe.” Then he turns
to the crowd, including most of the disciples, and he says, “You stay here.” He
takes only Peter, James, and John, Jairus and the messengers, and he goes on
to Jairus’ house.
When they get there, the house is in uproar.
This is not a Scandinavian household. Professional mourners
giving the family
and friends more permission
to wail. Jesus says to these people, “Why do you make a commotion and weep?
The child is not dead. She’s only sleeping!” They laugh at him. “Look
pal, we know dead, all right? We’re professional mourners. We serve on
committees at the temple. We’re educated people. Jairus must have been
half-crazed with grief to go to you. Get out of our way, Nazarene carpenter,
and let us do what needs to be done.” But instead, Jesus puts them out
and goes, with the child’s parents and his own friends, into the twelve
year old girl’s room.
Now, twelve 2000 years ago is not the
same as twelve today. At twelve, this Hebrew girl has
just become an
place in her
she is expected to start putting away her childhood games
and take on more responsibility. She is eligible for
marriage, though it’s likely to be three or four years
before she’s wed. What a wonderful, horrible time in a girl’s life.
I think about young women I know in today’s world. Young women who are
struggling because they’re not sure what adult life might hold for them.
So they stop eating. Or they cut themselves. Or they go a little crazy. They
want to be safe. They want to feel valued. And here, at the edge of childhood,
they feel neither.
Jesus goes to this adolescent girl and
says, “Little girl, get up!” “Little
girl”, he calls her, not “young woman.” He lets her know that
she can remain in the comparative safety of her childhood for a while longer.
But he also calls her to “get up,” to step forward and be who she
is, out loud in front of everybody. And she gets up and walks around.
Then, ministering to father and daughter
at the same time, Jesus tells them to give her something
risk, has humbled himself, has endured impatient waiting
and horrendous grief, is given a task that allows him
to the comfort
of daily life and
to affirm his daughter and his family in a way most of
us have done---by feeding them. The pattern here is complete,
father and daughter:
accepting the individual first, calling that person beyond
the comfortable, and
bringing each into the family of God.
So, what does this mean to me and to us?
If we are caught up in our own importance,
God challenges us to humble ourselves and ask for help.
God sends the
crowds away, makes
and then advises
us to tell no one.
If we are convinced of our worthlessness,
God calls us to have hope and let it move us to action,
to stand before
that we are part of the family of God, to be in peace.
If we are hiding from uncertainties, God
calls us to get up and accept nourishment.
God calls us to be more when we argue
that we are less and less when we are sure that it’s all about us.
There are a group of experts who do form
criticism of the Bible. They look at the structure of
the texts to
original story and what may have been added later. Perhaps
these miracle stories,
some of them say, were added later to make political
points. The early church struggled
with whether they were a Hebrew movement or one that
accepted gentiles. Maybe this story is about that: the
represents the gentiles and Jairus represents the Hebrews.
Christ came to both of
the writer is trying to show, after earlier chapters
describing Jesus’ teachings,
that Jesus was clearly a messenger of God and someone to whom we should listen.
It can’t really mean—literally—that a girl was raised from
Because if Jesus really raised that girl,
if he really healed that woman, why do I still have MS?
Don’t think I haven’t prayed to be cured. Don’t
think I didn’t try to atone, at twenty, for every sin I thought I had committed
or even contemplated. Don’t think I haven’t tried positive affirmations
and healing visualizations up one side and down another. If God can heal then
why am I still sick?
I was talking about this sermon with a
friend of mine and told her that was the question that
was still bothering
said, “Can you ask that question
in front of everybody?” How can I NOT ask that question? That little voice,
that voice that got me up here in the first place, that irritation of a Holy
Spirit, is telling me that dealing with this question is the reason I was invited,
called, and even pushed, to learn from THIS story over all others.
I was driving in my car, holding this
moment in the sermon in my mind, asking God, “If you healed them, why not me?” I pulled into the garage,
turned off the engine and, in that second of silence, I heard “You are
healed. That’s what I’ve been doing.” Holding that thought—and
carrying these stories with me—has led me to a new understanding of healing
and of God.
Healing is not something God DOES. Healing
is something God IS—that wonderful,
baffling, bright source and advocate of goodness and love…that is the cure.
If we live and move and have our beings in that Source, we are cured. Telling
our stories and listening to our brothers and sisters as they tell theirs, moving
beyond our comfort zones and encouraging our brothers and sisters move beyond
theirs, affirming that we are one family, glorifying God, all that is healing
work. All that is creating relationship with God and if I focus on creating and
recreating a close relationship with God, I am whole. Right here, right now,
in this body.
Thanks be to God.