July 8, 2018

Pentecost 7 July 8, 2018  2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 5:21-43 Wounded healers

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Last week Jesus and disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee, where soon as they hit land on the Gentile side of the lake, a man possessed by demons came rushing to Jesus and fell down before him, begging. (A story we don’t have time to re-tell, except to remember we heard that story as a parable about personal and community addiction.)

Now we’ve crossed the Sea of Galilee again. We’re back on the Jewish side of the lake in Jesus’ home territory – and now a leader of the local synagogue falls at the feet of Jesus, begging for healing for his young daughter who is dying.

The gospel tells the stories back-to-back to give us a view of Jesus healing a Gentile on one side of the lake, Jews on the other. And the closer we look the more we realize it’s all one story of the whole world’s universal need for Jesus…

As Jesus goes walking with Jairus the synagogue leader to his house to heal his daughter, with a large crowd walking with them… And a woman who’s been suffering from bleeding for twelve years that doctors can’t heal, who, like Jairus, has heard Jesus heals – reaches out in the crowd to touch him. Jewish Torah law prohibits anyone with a bodily discharge not only from touching others, but even from being among others in public. But as she ignores the letter of the Levitical law and touches Jesus’ garment, immediately she is healed.

Even though she’s cutting-in-line to be healed – even though she’s interrupting Jesus on his way to heal a dying child of a religious leader – she is healed. Knowing she’s breaking the religious code, this woman probably has been hoping to be healed anonymously by being in the crowd. But Jesus, immediately feeling power go out from him – stops in his tracks – asks “who touched me?” She falls at his feet, describes her ailment, confesses in fear and trembling what she’s done; perhaps expecting rebuke for breaking the law. But instead, Jesus blesses her for her faith – and pronounces her cleansed of ritual impurity – thus able to re-enter village life. Blessed to be healed. Blessed to be welcomed back into community. Doubly blessed.

Which must seem like a wondrous dream-come-true for her… But which likely seems more like a nightmare for poor Jairus, the synagogue leader. Who’s been left watching, waiting, wondering… how long this interruption must go on…  before Jesus gets done talking with this woman who has cut in line before him… How long? Before Jesus comes back… to healing my dying daughter…

But too late – (sounds like) – as the word comes “Your daughter has died… Why bother the teacher any longer?”

Still Jesus keeps walking – insisting the girl is not dead, only sleeping. Sleep, a metaphor for death everyone knows – but Jesus turns the metaphor inside out – as he treats her death as if it’s just a nap. He sends everyone away except the girl’s parents and three disciples – takes her by the hand – says “Little girl, get up!”  And she does.  And we see –

Two women, two healings – so tightly interwoven together as to be inseparable.   A girl age twelve, just reaching the age of bleeding that comes with puberty. An older woman whose life for the past twelve years has been one very long-slow-bleed. A child too ill and too close to death to be able to speak for herself – yet fortunate to have loving parents – her father begging, pleading on her behalf. And a woman who is not supposed to even be out in public – let alone touching a man in public – with no one to advocate for her. Two women in very different circumstances – whose lives are now bound together forever in Jesus.

And – to the woman who has been bleeding privately, silently, Jesus speaks publicly – pronouncing her healed – blessing her to reenter community. To the girl who has died very publicly – yet who now lives – in the privacy of her home – just to her and her family Jesus says – “say nothing about this!”‘Keep it all private.’ (As if there’s any chance… of keeping this news quiet!)

Jesus tells the community in different ways – with and without words – to welcome each of these women back into the life of the community. Removing public stigma and isolation from one – welcoming the other back to life in the sharing of a quiet yet very joyful meal with her family…

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And speaking of family and healing…We were blessed with a visit from family this past Friday – sharing home cooking and conversation together. And fortuitously for this pastor preparing a sermon on healing – all three of the adult family members visiting – Reah’s nephew Isser and his wife Eden, who live near Boston, and Isser’s sister Eva, our niece, visiting from Las Vegas – are all nurses. (On Reah’s side of the family, we’re rather nurse-intensive, with, in addition to our nieces and nephew, also two of Reah’s siblings are nurses – and our niece-in-law Eden’s mother. And three CNA’s and another who used to be. And I expect the trend to continue in the next generation – watching Eden and Isser’s three daughters (ages 7,3 and 1) and our daughter (who likes to call herself Dr Rohi)  playing doctors and nurses together energetically, all the while as I was interviewing our nieces on health and healing. (Rohi’s Uncle Isser hadn’t slept since coming off the night shift, so he was upstairs napping…)

And as we talked, it didn’t take long to be reminded – all the gospel healing stories are still being retold and made new by the Spirit every day in daily life. Which is good to be reminded of in this age – in which medical science knows so very much – yet so often also forgets – basic truths of healing – we used to know…

Watching Dr Jesus today is a reminder of days when doctors still made house-calls. Watching Jesus walking with a patient’s parent – stopping to help another patient on the way – is a reminder of the old-fashioned wisdom – that healing needs personal touch every bit as much technical expertise. Technology can be a big help, rightly used. But prayer, gentle touch, and kind words are every bit as much a part a healing as medicine. And we don’t have to be doctors or nurses to help with healing.

The nurses in our family confirm – patients whose friends and families visit often and show love to the one hospitalized get well quicker and more often – than patients who go unvisited or visited only in haste (as if it were an unpleasant duty to visit). Likewise, patients whose doctors and nurses take time to listen well heal better – than those treated strictly by HMO regulations, with visits kept strictly within insurance company time-limits, and more time often spent reading charts on a computer than examining and speaking directly with a patient. When money drives decision making, patients become statistical problems to be solved and discharged quickly as possible. Good luck if you’ve got a preexisting condition.

But noticing how Jesus takes time to interact with a patient even when he’s in a hurry…and remembering how Jesus tells a patient today “your faith has made you well” – I asked our nieces about the role of faith in healing. One said patients who have faith often heal faster and more completely. Prayer from the heart and  expecting God’s help and giving thanks for even the smallest blessings certainly helps the healing process…

Yet even with very strong faith and positive attitude, not everyone is healed, at least not in this lifetime. Strong faith improves our prognosis, but even faith that can metaphorically move mountains can’t guarantee outcomes. Most of us know devout believers who’ve lived healthy lives and practiced faith consistently, who still die too young. There’s always more to life and death than we can ever fully explain or understand… None of us can see all the big picture…

And not to excuse poor quality care or lack of basic bedside manners –  but – part of the big picture is the reality that care-giving is often stressful work. Even Jesus feels power going out of him as he heals… One of our nieces spoke about working in the neurology department, taking care of mostly young men injured in car crashes – many now suffering paralysis that will at best be only partly healed. Exposure to their physical and emotional pain and trauma affects their families and her as well. She badly needs extra rest and healing at the end of each shift… None of us are ever exactly like Jesus – but we too feel power go out from us when we’re doing healing work… And – the words of Henri Nouwen, priest, theologian and author, in our Thought for the Week come to mind: “We are all healers who can reach out and offer health – and we are all patients in constant need of help.”  Nouwen titled one of his books The Wounded Healer – with Jesus himself inspiration for the title. Jesus heals so many, many people… Yet always there are many more waiting, hoping to be healed… than there is time in the day… And at the end of the gospels… Jesus himself is deeply in need of healing… As he’s beaten, scourged, mocked and crucified…

Skeptical critics of Christian faith often like to ask rhetorically ‘so if Jesus can heal and raise people from the dead, why doesn’t he do this for everyone?’ Bible scholar and retired bishop Tom (NT) Wright replies “Just as Jesus wasn’t coming to be a one-man liberation movement in the traditional revolutionary sense – so he wasn’t coming to be a one-man emergency medical center. He was indeed starting a revolution – and he was indeed bringing God’s healing power – but his aim went deeper; these things were signs of the real revolution, the real healing – that God was to accomplish through his death and resurrection. For that we must read on… “

And as we read on in the New Testament we hear the apostle Paul, at the tail-end of a longer argument with those who accuse him of weakness – because unlike the mega-church wanna-be apostles of his day – he doesn’t earn a big salary or beg for big contributions or preach like a tv preacher… Instead, here’s the apostle telling the Corinthian church how he’s been given a glimpse into the heavenly realm, where he’s seen things too holy to speak of. And Paul tells us in the same breath… how he’s asked God to take away a painful wound he describes as straight from hell… (We don’t know if the wound is physical, spiritual, emotional or some combination. We’re never told.) The apostle only tells us – he’s asked God three times to take away this wound. He’s heard God reply “my grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.”

And maybe one of the reasons Jesus can’t be hurried… is because Jesus our wounded healer is still leading God’s mission to heal the whole wounded world… A project way too big and too mysterious to be hurried… But…a project Dr Jesus is still working on over-time, all the time. Recruiting, training and re-training you and me and all of us to be his nurses and physician’s assistants… Working with him in all his holy work of healing this whole world unto salvation and healing…     Asking and inviting us again to enlist or re-enlist… And if we’re willing – we can say –

Thanks be to God. (Thanks be to God.)  Amen.