Monday, June 29, 2015

Get Up and Walk! (A sermon on Mark 5:21-43)

One of the more confident claims made by historical Jesus scholars is that Jesus of Nazareth was a healer – he healed people. It is one of the most confident historical claims that can be made about Jesus of Nazareth. But if you asked these same scholars about a particular healing story – whether or not a particular story is historical – they would say maybe or maybe not. The reason they would say that is because they know that the individual healing stories in the Gospels are first and foremost not historical reports, but proclamations of the good news focused on the living Christ and his presence and power in his followers. So they function something like parables, though I’m sure many of them contain memories and echoes of specific healings.

In the story or rather stories before us Jesus crosses back into Jewish territory. I say stories rather than story, because we actually have two stories here fused together by Mark in his typical sandwiching style where he starts one story, has that story interrupted and then upon its conclusion, comes back to the first story. Here Jesus is first approached by a synagogue leader named Jairus. He falls down at the feet of Jesus and the text says “begged him repeatedly” to accompany him back to his home to heal his little girl.  

Jesus agrees. As they depart a large crowd presses in on Jesus and a woman who had been suffering with hemorrhages for 12 years presses through the crowd to touch Jesus, because she believes that if she can just touch his clothes she will be healed.  

What both Jairus and the woman have in common is that they are both desperate. Jairus’ daughter is at the point of death and he is so desperate to secure Jesus’ compassion for his little girl he falls down on his face begging. And this poor woman who had suffered for 12 years with this condition and had completely exhausted her means having “endured much from many physicians” pushes through the crowd, completely oblivious or uncaring that she was according to Jewish law unclean and so everyone she touched she rendered unclean. Both are desperate and they see Jesus as their last hope.

Sometimes, sisters and brothers, we have to be desperate before we are open to instruction and help that can bring healing and liberation. How many stories have we heard of addicts who had to suffer terribly, who had to endure much, who had to come to a place of utter desperation before they would admit their addiction and seek healing.

What we often miss or deny is that we are all addicts. Richard Rohr puts it this way, “Human beings are addictive by nature. Addiction is a modern name and honest description for the biblical tradition called ‘sin,’ and what medieval Christians called ‘passions’ or ‘attachments.’ They both recognized that serious measures, or practices were needed to break us out of these illusions and entrapments; in fact the New Testament calls them in some cases ‘exorcisms’!

Rohr points out that substance addictions like alcohol and drugs are merely the most visible forms of addiction, but actually we are all addicted to our own habitual way of doing anything – our own defense mechanisms, and most especially our patterned way of thinking or how we process reality, which Rohr calls “stinking thinking.” We are all addicted to some form of stinking thinking, which is usually translated into actions and patterns of behavior, patterns of reacting and relating that smell up the place. And for some reason, we tend not be able to see what we are addicted to – it is typically ‘hidden’ from us, which is why it so often takes some major blow or hurt to remove the blinders.

Now, in both of these stories the touch of Jesus is emphasized. There are some healing stories in the Gospels where that is not the case, but here – clearly – touch is emphasized. The woman fights through the crowd and touches Jesus’ garment. Jesus senses that healing power has flowed out of him, so he turns around and says, “Who touched me?” The disciples think this odd because there were a lot of people touching him. But someone had touched Jesus on a deeper level, someone had connected with Jesus in a healing way – we could say a saving, liberating way.

The Greek word that is translated “to be made well” in vv. 23, 28, and 34 in our text is the same Greek word that is generally translated, outside the Gospels in the rest of the NT, as “to be saved.” To be made whole in the Gospels in other places is translated “to be saved. To be saved is to be healed or liberated in the Jesus stories. This is one clue, by the way, that these stories are about more than just physical healing.

When Jesus arrives at the home of Jairus they are greeted with the awful news, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any longer.” But Jesus turns to Jairus and says, “Do not fear, only believe.” Jesus is saying, “Don’t let fear overwhelm you, trust God’s healing power and trust me as an agent of God’s healing power.” Then, Jesus tells the mourners to stop mourning, because the child is not really dead, she is sleeping. The point that Jesus seems to be making is that it is time for her to wake up, it is time for her to get out of bed and rise up with new life and energy.

And maybe this is the word we near to hear today. What is it that is pressing us down like a sickness and keeping us from rising up and embracing life? It could be something physical over which we have no control. Or it could be something emotional or circumstantial or relational. It could be our “stinking thinking.”

Jesus removes all the naysayers and scoffers who can’t imagine that new life is possible. Then he touches her. He takes her by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up.” And Mark says that she got up and began to walk about.

What is this touch that heals and restores and brings new life and meaning? Well, it should be obvious to those of us who are followers of Jesus. It is the touch of love. Love is the power that can create life out of death.

On Friday, June 19 Dylann Roof, charged with nine counts of murder in the shooting deaths that occurred at Mother Emanuel in Charleston, South Carolina, appeared before a bond hearing court. Family members and friends were permitted to speak to the suspect. Roof could hear them, but he couldn’t see them.

Anger was clearly acknowledged and expressed, but amazingly, in redemptive, not destructive ways. 

Felicia Sanders, mother of Tywanza Sanders said, “We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautiful people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts . . . and I’ll never be the same. Tywanza was my son . . . my hero . . . may God have mercy on you.”

Bethane Middleton-Brown, representing the family of the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor acknowledged her hurt and anger but then said, “We have no room for hate. We have to forgive. I pray God for your soul.”
 
Alana Simmons, granddaughter of Daniel Simmons said, “Although my grandfather and other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof – everyone’s plea for your soul is proof they lived in love and their legacies will live in love, so hate won’t win.”

Anthony Thompson, speaking on behalf of Myra Thompson declared, “I forgive you, my family forgives you. . . . Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so he can change your ways no matter what happens to you and you’ll be okay.”

The daughter of Ethel Lance said, “I forgive you. You took something really precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you and have mercy on your soul.”

Can you imagine? Roof wanted to start a race war, but instead he heard these amazing declarations of grace.

Frankly, I don’t know how they did it. They are better Christians than I am. They were more filled with God’s Spirit than what I would have been. 

Such beautiful and powerful expressions are reflective of the power of love to prevail in the most horrible and evil of contexts. Such is the power of love to overcome in the midst of great hate and evil. Whenever disciples of Jesus talk about love winning this is what we mean. It’s a different kind of winning for sure.

And this is what it means to get up and walk in the midst of death. This is what it means to embrace life and peace rather than to give in to hate and vengeance and keep feeding the cycle of violence. This is the touch of Christ that can bring healing and liberation today.

So church, are we open to this touch? The touch of Christ may come to us through some expression of forgiveness by a friend or family member. It may come in the form of a personal presence, someone willing to sit with us, stare with us, listen to us express our own fears and insecurities without judging us or trying to correct us or make us feel guilty for feeling what we feel. Christ’s healing touch can come in many forms.

But we need to ask not only, “Am I open to the loving touch of Christ?” but we must go on and say, “Am I willing to be the loving touch of Christ?” Am I willing to be the presence of Christ to some brother or sister or community that needs to feel a loving touch, that needs to know that there is someone who cares.

Sometimes healing, God’s shalom, God’s peace and redemption come to us, not as the result of our own faith, but the faith of someone else, who simply refuses to give up on us like this father in our story who refused to give in to death. It takes some discernment, I think, to know how long to hang on and when to let go.

I wonder if there had been someone in the life of Dylann Roof who really loved him and refused to give up on him, if he would still have descended into this world of racist hate.

Amber Philips of the Washington Post interviewed Todd Blodgett who spent two years going undercover for the FBI at white supremacist meetings and conventions across the country. She asked him about the kind of person who is drawn into these racist hate groups. He said, “As a general rule, people who have got a lot of problems in their own lives. They often come from unstable families . . . It’s often a kid, usually a male, but sometimes a female, who cannot make it in school. He blames all his problems on someone else.” He says that when they log onto a hate web site or attend a racist meeting where they are blaming people that they already don’t like they think, ‘There it is. That’s why I am a drop out. That’s why I am addicted to drugs. That’s why I can’t get a job.” It becomes an effective scapegoat mechanism, almost like what Hitler did in the 30’s.

I wonder how many of these kids like Dylann Roof may have been turned around if someone would have been there to say, “I care about you. Don’t go down that path. You are better than this. This is not who you are.”

I’m sure you have heard faith stories, we use to call them testimonies, of people who have said, “I’m glad so and so didn’t give up on me.” It could be a parent or a brother or sister or a good friend or even an ex-husband or ex-wife.

Like the ex-wife who had remarried and went on with her life who said to her former husband, “Your daughter needs a father, so get your blankity life together. I’ll help you.” And she did and he did. And he is now a good father and a better person.  Sometimes we need someone to say, “Get up and walk and I will help you up and I will walk with you.”

You know sisters and brothers, sometimes we are the ones who must press through the challenges and obstacles blocking our path like the woman who pressed through the crowd to touch Jesus. There are other times we have no energy or ability or will to press through on our own and we are like this little girl in our story who is dependent on others. Sometimes we are too sick, too depressed, too fearful, too insecure, too this or that and we need someone who embodies God’s presence to touch us and help us get up.

And then there are those times when we have to ask ourselves and ask Christ who it is that needs our touch, who needs our presence, who needs our love and compassion and empathy. Who is it that needs us to stand with them or stand for them because they cannot stand by themselves?  


Our good God, I suspect that many of us are at different places in our spiritual pilgrimage and journey. Some of us may need to find the courage and strength to tackle the challenges that confront us, to press through the crowd, the naysayers, the negativity, the unbelief and not give up on your cause or give in to worldly pressures and enticements. Some of us perhaps are are being called to represent a loved one or friend, to stand with them and stand for them because they, for whatever reason, are too weak to stand on their own – not to cultivate dependence, but to empower them to get up and walk. Help us to be discerning in how we need to function as your disciples and increase our capacity to trust your love and grace to bring healing into our lives and the lives of those we love and are called to serve. 

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