July 1, The power of faith

The power of faith

Mark 5:21-43

 

The scripture story for this morning is really two stories:

First, it’s the story of Jarius and his daughter – she is sick and then supposedly dead, that is until Jesus encounters her – and secondly, it’s the story of the woman with the hemorrhage, bleeding for twelve years and then suddenly healed when she encounters Jesus.

The New Revised Standard Version (which was used for the scripture reading today) groups the two stories under this one heading: “A girl restored to life and a woman healed.” And I think I understand why the editors wrote that heading.

In terms of the first story, there is some debate between Jesus and the people weeping and wailing outside Jarius’ house about whether his young daughter is dead or just sleeping, so the phrase “restored to life” allows for that ambiguity to remain. Maybe she was dead, maybe she wasn’t, but either way Jesus healed her and this child who was on her death-bed, was able to get up and walk around – restored to normal function, to normal life.

The second part of the heading seems to make sense too – “a woman healed” – because the woman with the bleeding problem is healed in the story. The way the healing comes about – through her grasp of Jesus’ robe, and healing power flowing from him to her – is strange and unusual, but immediately after it happens, it is confirmed in the interaction, the conversation, between Jesus and the woman as an event of healing.

So, yes, “A girl restored to life and a woman healed,” is an understandable headline to give this combination of two stories. But I wonder whether maybe we could come up with a better headline. Something, maybe, that catches up the reason for the two stories being woven together. What would the headline be, that might link these two different stories?

I thought of a couple of possibilities. How about “Two daughters who come back to life”? Or, “A couple of healing surprises”? Or, “Jesus has compassion for the vulnerable,” Or “What can happen when faith fills the space”?

And you see, I suggest those kinds of headlines, because it’s not just the literal “healing act” that happens in these stories that holds the key to these stories – that is, the moment when the bleeding stops or the coma slides away.

Rather, along with a moment of healing, the thing that links the two stories and the thing that matters for our spiritual awareness and learning in both instances, is that in examples like these, in stories like these, there is physical healing, but there is also the powerful effect of a deep reassurance, of a deep recognition, that the pains and limitations of life are not only something to be corrected, but when there is pain or limitation, healing also involves restoration and renewal and often some kind of resurrection.

And that for people seeking healing…restored life, renewed life, resurrected life, is also something to be grasped, even grabbed, with hand and heart, with mind and soul, with uncertainty and faith.  

Yes, healing can be understood and experienced as a physical matter, but physical healing isn’t the only thing needed for new life, and sometimes just a physical healing isn’t enough for new life. Both Jarius and his daughter, and the woman who has been bleeding, need to be met by Jesus, acknowledged by Jesus, received by Jesus, touched by Jesus, affirmed by Jesus. Something holistic needs to happen; healing and affirmation and touch and connection all need to be held in the same basket.

A woman who has been bleeding, hemorrhaging, for twelve years, has been “unclean” for twelve years, untouchable for twelve years. She’s been sick all that time and in the course of spending all her resources seeking healing for her disease, she’s also become impoverished. And nothing has made her better.

And despite that, she somehow maintains a spirit of hope, at least a glimmer of hope. How does someone like that have hope? How does someone like that keep looking around and thinking to themselves, “If only…”? Well, somehow she does and when Jesus comes along, she feels deep down in her heart, that the answer is to reach out and touch him; if only she can touch him.

And she’s right. She reaches out – this untouchable woman – she reaches out and touches Jesus. And then power moves – from him to her – and she’s physically healed, but at the same time, she’s exposed: he knows someone has touched him and that power has moved. Who is it? He asks his disciples. He scans the crowd.

The woman (who finally has physical healing in her grasp) has a choice. She can take her physical healing and slink away, or she can step forward, trembling and fearful, and admit what she has done. She steps forward. Now, what’s next? Will Jesus take back the miracle that she grabbed from him? Will he judge her? Condemn her? Will he somehow make her pay for it?

What tremendous courage this woman has – the courage to reach out and touch, the courage to believe in something better, and then also the courage to own her actions, the courage to come to Jesus and admit what she’s done.

Jesus calls it faith. And sure, it’s faith in the power of healing, but it’s also faith in the compassion of Jesus. And I kind of wonder whether the reason she steps forward and admits what she has done isn’t because she feels guilty or ashamed, but because she wants the whole deal. She wants physical healing, yes, but she also wants acceptance and validation and restoration. And with Jesus, she’s willing to roll the dice: Stop my bleeding, yes, but will you also heal my heart, restore my place in the community, see me as a person.

Meanwhile, there’s Jarius, one of the leaders of the synagogue, coming to Jesus to ask for healing for his young daughter. He knows the pain of a parent whose child is sick and there is nothing that the parent can do about it. She’s sick and headed toward death.

Jesus receives his request and goes with him, but on the way, the crowd slows him down, and then there’s this thing with the woman who is bleeding. And then before Jesus can even get to Jarius’ house, here come the neighbors, the local observers, maybe even the town busybodies: “Too late,” they call out, “don’t even bother coming the rest of the way.”

But Jesus isn’t deterred. “Do not fear, only believe,” he says to Jarius, because again, Jesus knows that it’s not just a sick girl’s life that is at stake, but a family’s well-being. He knows that there are layers of healing needed.

So, he travels the rest of the way, and then, taking only a few disciples with him, he enters the house. The little girl is stretched out, silent and still. The crowd wails and weeps. Jesus sends them outside. He remains in the quiet room where the little girl is, and he takes her hand, tells her to rise, and she does.

And again, there is the physical healing, but there is also the experience of restoration – something healed and something made whole; the restoring of spirit, the healing of anxiety, the steadying of the heartbeat. It starts when Jesus tells Jarius to set aside his fear, and to believe, and then it reaches its climax when he takes the child’s hand and says, “Little girl, get up!”

It appears all is lost, and then suddenly everything is okay. Someone asks for pain-relief and they get new life. That’s what restoration looks like. The focus, the need, might show up from one direction – it might be singular. But restoration is multi-dimensional. It’s the other side of the coin, on which it is written, “Love God with heart, soul, mind and strength.” Because in God’s restorative act, in God’s offering of healing, is God loving you with heart, soul, mind and strength. God is returning to you your heart, soul, mind and strength.

A couple of weeks ago when I talked about the mystery of growth, I reflected that “time has this way of being everything and nothing, all at once; both forever and the blink of an eye.” I think this story has a little bit of that quality too, because you surely noticed that the little girl who is stretched out in a coma is twelve years old and the woman with the hemorrhage has also been suffering for twelve years. A life time for one; a season of suffering for the other. One a child, the other an adult. One a sudden turn for the worse, the other a chronic struggle. Different, yet the same.

It’s like us: we are different, yet the same. And everyone has something going on in their lives and much of it is unknown to others, but perhaps things that run on parallel tracks. Some of our suffering is obvious, some is hidden. Some struggles are chronic, some come upon us in the blink of an eye. Some of the healing that is needed is physical, some is emotional, some is psychological, some spiritual. But all of it has a deep root in the need for restoration. And all of it hangs on the thin thread of hope. Will we have faith that Jesus will not only show up, but reach out his hand, and make us whole? And if so, how will that happen?

Several weeks ago, my twelve year old daughter Leyna and I watched the movie “Avatar.” It was a big-budget, special effects science fiction movie that came out almost ten years ago. In the movie, humans have traveled to a distant planet called Pandora. The atmosphere is poisonous to human beings, but science has invented a way for humans to be transformed into a hybrid of human and the human-like native creatures called the Na’vi.

The main human character is a paralyzed former Marine, who, when he is transformed into his Avatar, is able to walk and run again. He so much likes this restoration of his physical abilities that he volunteers to go into his Avatar form as often as possible. In that hybrid form, he mingles with the natives, he learns their ways, he enjoys his physical restoration, he falls in love with one of the women, and eventually decides to take the side of the Na’vi against the humans who would destroy their world for material gain.

In some ways it is a predictable plot, and it is clear who are the villains and who are the heroes. The special effects, however, are impressive, and the idea of moving between worlds is intriguing. But what made me think of the movie some weeks after seeing it, as I was writing this sermon, is the way that the Na’vi speak their love and respect and connection to each other. They don’t say “I love you.” They say, “I see you.”

I see you.

I wonder whether that’s at the core, at the center, of what Jesus does with Jarius, what Jesus does with the woman who touches the hem of his robe, what Jesus does with the little girl, silent and still. I see you. Maybe seeing someone is the first step to touching and healing and restoring them.

This afternoon, I am headed off to Annual Conference in Cincinnati – three days of Standing Committee meetings followed by four days of Annual Conference. I’ve decided that the best way to describe it is to say that I am going to Annual Conference twice. And I’ll tell you what: going to Annual Conference once is tiring enough! Going to Annual Conference twice demands even more.

Several people have asked me “What is the main issue this year?” or “What do you expect to happen?” Some years, that is an easy question to answer, but this year there’s no pending action that will turn the church one way or another. But generally speaking, even without a critical piece of business to decide, the Church of the Brethren is still in an in-between time right now. Large questions loom over us: Will we stay with each other? Can we agree on purpose and direction?

So, the big emphasis right now is on something called “A compelling vision.” There’s a committee and a commitment – multiple hours will be devoted during the business sessions this year to a compelling vision conversation and next year, the plan is to bring no new business to the annual conference, so that we can devote a majority of our time and effort to a conversation about what matters to us most and how we can move forward together.

Honestly, I’m kind of skeptical. Who gets to choose the magic words? Who hold the reins that will steer us one way or another? Is a compelling vision compelling because it inspires us all, or is it compelling because it demands, or compels, our agreement, our participation?

And so as I think this morning about healing and restoration and faith, I wonder: Could it be that more than a set of words or ideals we need a season of restoration? A commitment to “seeing” others? An understanding that more than being on the winning side, we need a chance at healing?

To Jarius, Jesus says, “Do not fear, only believe.” To the woman healed of her hemorrhage he says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” It both cases, it is faith that creates the bridge between suffering and wholeness. Faith as trust. Faith as courage. Faith as hope. Faith that someone else will see us and love us and touch us and restore us.

Is such a thing possible? When we are hurting and when we are vulnerable, we hope it is. That’s the faith we hope to have.

May God, who we seek to love with heart, soul, mind and strength, restore our hearts, souls, minds and strength. And may Jesus who sees us, see us to a place of wholeness.

 

Amen.

 

Kurt Borgmann

Manchester Church of the Brethren

July 1, 2018