Being the Church: The Church Made Well

Today’s sermon from Mark 5:21-43

Sometime in May of 2012, the weekend before my Baptist Heritage Class final, my aunt came to town with my 3 little cousins.

It was a Friday night and the next day, Saturday,  we would be going to the zoo- my favorite place.

That night I went to sleep full of excitement and ready to see the pandas. The next morning I woke up full of excruciating pain in my back and ready for Christ to return and end my pain.

I spent the day in my bed instead of with the pandas and by 2 Am on Sunday morning I couldn’t take it anymore.

I drove myself to the nearest ER where I was diagnosed with a kidney infection and gallstones.  The infection cleared up with IV and oral antibiotics, but the gallstones proved a bit more troublesome.

For 2 years I couldn’t eat anything with fat in it, for fear of a gallstone attack. So I ate tomatoes,  cucumbers,  rice and chicken.

2 years of butter-less thanksgivings,cookie-less Christmases,  and cheesecake-less birthdays later, I was finally able to have the surgery that would change everything.

Recovery was fine and I’m thankful to have all of that behind me,but those 2 years were not too easy.  In fact sometimes, life was pretty draining.

Sometimes,  even despite how very careful I was with my diet, I would be awakened in the middle of the night by intense and stabbing pain in my back or shoulders.

During my internship and the first part of my residency I was always afraid I’d have a gallstone attack while I was on call at the hospital.

Illness is a universal interruption of life that everyone understands – at least to some extent.

A lot of times it is unexpected,  every time it is unwelcome and many times it leaves in its wake a slew of residual problems even after the initial illness has cleared.

Chronic illnesses have a particularly draining quality all their own. For the person with a chronic illness, sometimes life can seem like too much,  it’s interruption after interruption,  and health crisis planning becomes a way of life.

Sometimes the next health crisis is the one that finally snaps everything apart: physically, financially,  emotionally,  or spiritually.

It’s in this kind of moment of deepest despair where we again experience the good news of a Savior who enters into life’s darkness to shine heaven’s light.

Let’s follow him across the river and watch the scene unfold.

Somehow, healing stories involving Jesus generally unfold around large crowds or large bodies  of water.  Here, we have both.

Jesus climbs out of the boat onto dry land.  As he finds secure footing on the sandy shore, he is spotted by a prominent synagogue leader named Jairus.

Paying no attention to what associating himself with Jesus will do to his reputation, Jairus flings himself to the ground,

his well-dressed knees meeting the dusty earth with a humbling thump, and bows low to the ground in desperation, with an anguished plea that would melt any heart.

“My little girl is dying. Please come lay hands on her so she can be ok.” In his mind, he is picturing all the life this little girl has left to live. Jesus agrees and sets off toward the home of this prominent Jewish man.

On the other side of the great throng of people, at the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum, a woman.

A bleeding woman. A bleeding woman who has spent every penny she has on doctors and medicines and instead of getting better, everyday she grows worse.

Unclean, isolated and miserable,she knows without a doubt that this is that healer guy she’s been hearing about for so long.

After 12 years of holidays and birthdays and important celebrations spent all alone, probably just barely scraping by on rice, cucumbers and tomatoes, she can’t take it anymore.

She decides to risk it all- risk contaminating the crowd, contaminating Jesus, even prosecution for touching Jesus in her condition, to walk through the crowd toward this holy healer in order to touch just even a thread on his clothes and claim a blessing of healing and restoration.

She’ll do it stealthily and quietly.  In bold and driven faith she claims her miracle and feels the immediate change in her body.

At the exact same time, Jesus feels a change in his, a shift of power, an inadvertent healing that he didn’t really get to be a part of.

Keep in mind that all of this happens while Jesus is on his way to do a healing that was actually asked for.

This is an important moment in human and divine history. 2 people who could not be more different find themselves in a remarkably equalizing desperation, and then come face to face with the compassion of Christ and the power of God.

The power of God that goes out from Jesus makes him look around until he finds this person who dared to claim a healing without making herself known.

And his compassion softens his initial indignation as he sees this woman and as he listens, really listens, to this unnamed woman’s story of hope lost.

In his compassion, he gives her his time and bestows on her the sweetest name she’s ever known – daughter, and he restores hope to her newly healed life.

But, as life would have it, while one daughter is being healed, another daughter has died.

Much like an unwanted illness, this woman has interrupted Jesus’ quest to get to Jairus’ daughter.

Jesus welcomed the intrusion, refusing to let a healing go by without having a face to put with it, refusing to let this particular healing go by without affirming this woman’s heroic faith.

As Jesus continues toward Jairus’s home, messengers come to tell him his daughter has died, and to not bother with Jesus anymore. What they’re really saying is “there’s no hope left, she’s gone.”

And Jesus finds himself again at the intersection of joy and sorrow, of celebration and mourning.

One has been healed, another has lost her life. Jesus overhears the messengers and says to Jairus, “ don’t let fear overtake you. Keep holding on to your hope.”

Somehow, Jairus makes it home, and a grim scene of weeping and wailing meets him.

When Jesus tells the criers to dry it up because the girl is only sleeping, they laugh at him and he ushers them out. With only his closest friends and the girl’s parents in the room, he takes her by the hand and commands her to arise.

She does. To normalize the experience as much as possible, Jesus suggests that she and her parents share a meal together.

2 healing stories, 2 people humbled by life come looking for hope in Jesus the healer. 2 women find new life in Christ the savior.

2 instances of deep faith intersect with each other and point the witnesses and the readers to the power of God, the compassion of Christ and the blessing of faith that risks everything.

Healing stories are filled with hope, by their very nature as healing stories. They always end well. There’s an important and disturbing question that always comes to mind when reading a healing story.

In a delicate dance around awe at the immeasurable power of God,and knowledge about the realities of this present life, sometimes you have to wonder…

Where are faith and healing when the bleeding doesn’t stop? When the loved one is not raised to life?  The diagnosis is severe,  the prognosis bleak,  the condition irreversible?

Where are faith and healing when the despair in the world around is as crushing as a miracle-hungry crowd, pushing and shoving on all sides?

One of the toughest and most influential lessons I had to learn in my residency as a pediatric chaplain was how to pray about healing, instead of for healing.

I had spent a 24 hour call shift that ended very badly. Most of it had been spent with a mother in the ER, who was at the brink of losing her child.

We prayed and prayed and prayed, and I came back to work the next Monday deflated and angry that my prayers had apparently gone unheard.

Martha, my supervisor helped me understand that what I was experiencing was not a lack of faith as I had feared, but a case of misplaced expectation.

I had a very specific understanding of healing, and very specific expectations of what it meant to pray for healing.

Martha helped me recognize that healing can mean a lot of different things; healing can look a lot of different ways – but that for me as a chaplain, the underlying truth  I could always lean on was that in every kind of healing, God is present, and christ is near.

When the bleeding doesn’t stop, when God with us isn’t how  we expected it would be, faith and healing look a little different.

Faith and healing come after the fact, when families remember with love the memories shared with their lost loved one.

Faith and healing happen when, in declining health, one looks back in gratitude over a life well-spent; giving thanks for the good times and reaching out to touch the feet of Jesus expecting a blessing of strength for the tough road ahead.

Faith and healing happen after the tears of Newtown and Sandy Hook have been wiped away as parents remember their children with deep gratitude;  as families look ahead to the resurrection with inexplicable and unwavering hope.

Faith and healing happen as hymns of solidarity and comfort envelop faith communities in the midst of tragedy, like the one at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, and in black faith communities across the nation that are seeing their houses of worship burned to the ground.

Faith and healing happen when we join our hearts to the heart of Jesus in stories like this one; stories that remind us that Christ is always with us, that hope is not far away, that death is not the final word.

Health may fail and bodies will start to break down. And as the world continues to turn, there will be people who desperately need to see, to feel the presence of Christ, crucified and risen, in their lives.

We can have the healing presence of Christ in our own lives, and we can share the healing presence of Christ with others, through faith in God’s power, faith in Christ’s hope, faith that risks everything that matters for a glimpse of, a touch from, a moment with the risen savior.

Faith that risks everything; like the bold faith of the hemorrhaging woman and the quietly desperate, humble faith of the synagogue leader is a faith that casts distractions and concerns for the world’s opinion aside and propels us to the feet of a savior, whose words contain the transforming power to change our lives from fear to trust:

trust that healing comes in many forms and that, though we may not receive the kind of healing we expect, Chris will walk beside us,

trust that even in our deepest despair, Christ’s presence is the light that will guide us through,

trust that in God’s time and God’s way, we will be made well.

In response to these wonderful promises, we emerge from our hiding places amidst the crowds, heads held high and fears replaced with dignity and purpose;

trembling with awe in the presence of divine love, ready to share our good news with a hurting world:

news of the power of Christ’s presence in our lives to heal us and make us whole,

news that, in Christ, we are made well and restored to life.

Restored lives recognize that there is more beyond this life,  that earthly limits do not define us,  that God has a mission for us:

in health and in unhealth, in youth and in old age, in abundance and in need.

What does it look like to be the church made well? What does it mean to be the church restored to life?

The church made well understands the redeeming work of Christ throughout its lifespan- its joys and sorrows, challenges and triumphs; and uses the collective stories of her faith to speak this redeeming narrative into the lives of the isolated, the lonely, the oppressed.

The church restored to life bleeds for the wounds of a broken world.

Through the aches of the past still bring a twinge of pain at times, the church restored to life recognizes pain as a sign of life and uses the pain of the past- soothed with balm from on high- to propel her mission forward under the gentle leading of Christ’s guiding touch.

The church made well and restored to life recognizes that the loss of a building does not equal loss of mission or loss of identity.

Instead,  the identity of the church made well, the church restored to life is built,  brick by metaphorical brick, on the foundation of Christ’s love for each of us – a love that dries our tears,  and sits with us in our grief,  a love that heals our hearts,  and a foundation that will stand forever.

The church made well is, at its heart, a group of people who have known Christ’s healing presence in their lives, a group of people who are committed to sharing this healing presence with others so that the world  around us might be made well; so that the world around us might  be restored to life.

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